Many cities struggle to provide marginalized neighborhoods adequate greenspace, because of post-industrial economic downturn, disinvestment, and legal, social, and political barriers, which impede public good provision. Cities like Chicago, Illinois and Louisville, Kentucky have responded by decentralizing community greenspace provision and governance to third-party organizations and the communities themselves. Chicago created NeighborSpace, a non-profit land trust, to secure small properties for community self-governance. Louisville assigned the local Cooperative Extension Service this responsibility. We examined these arrangements in terms of proposed design principles for state-reinforced self-governance, bridging the gap between principles of informal self-governance and formal decentralization and democracy in complex, highly regulated city systems. We interviewed key decision makers and stakeholders and collected essential documents (e.g., legislation, agreements) to evaluate these solutions within their social-ecological contexts. NeighborSpace exemplifies each of the design principles, efficiently providing greenspace to marginalized neighborhoods and enabling their community governance. Louisville’s Extension Service lacks several principles, decreasing its effectiveness and efficiency, and preventing community governance. Effective decentralization entails government sponsorship in the form of sufficient and appropriately specified legal authority, responsibility, tangible support and self-sufficiency, and balanced mechanisms for stability and flexibility, among other essential factors for robust self-governance. The current research demonstrates how these principles were achieved in a model program, overcoming common but substantial barriers to public good provision and cooperation faced in many cities.
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