Reclaiming the Urban Commons and Land Back

Presented by Gil Lopez, Alicia Grullón, Kristina Baines, Lucy Mercado, Rebecca Amato, Cesar Yoc

Lenapehoking (AKA NYC) is a complex place with a dense history and competing narratives. As a global center for capital and cultural exchange, the ground on which we walk is at once contested, owned, despoiled, and commodified, but what does it mean to reclaim these as commons or demand this Land Back!? This panel invites historians and local leaders who are participating in this dialogue through a diversity of tactics to steward, publicly use, collectively own, and/or give the Land Back.


Alicia Grullón is an organizer with The People’s Cultural Plan and The North Bronx Collective, which came together in March 2020 to do mutual aid as a result of COVID. Grullón is also an artist, curator and educator and recipient of the 2020-2022 Walentas Fellowship at Moore College of Art and Design. Using performance and self-portraiture as a critique on the politics of presence, Grullon’s social practice art work extends to exploring how people relate to land in order to rally a transformation of their/our living. A lifelong New Yorker, Grullón is based in the Bronx and teaches at Queens College and the School of Visual Arts. The North Bronx Collective (NbxC) is a group of Black and Brown women and nonbinary folkx working on what it means to steward stolen land in urban spaces. NbxC sees green spaces as sites of Black, Brown, and Queer imaginings ready to make a future working with nature rather than against it, “We steward with the intent of returning stolen land. As temporary caretakers, we steward the land to end incarceration, policing and debt. Our work ties together food justice and land rehabilitation as a pedagogy to decolonize our thinking and habits..” 

Kristina Baines is a sociocultural anthropologist with an applied medical/environmental focus. Her research interests include indigenous ecologies, health, and heritage in the context of global change, in addition to publicly engaged research and dissemination practices. She is Associate Professor of Anthropology at CUNY, Guttman, the Director of Anthropology for Cool Anthropology. Kristina is a founding member of the 45th Street Composters in Sunnyside, which was started as a direct action involving private property which had been fenced and vacant for 12 years. The action took place in June 2020 and the community worked with the property owner and a local nonprofit to gain legal access since October 2020. 

Lucy Mercado is an urban gardener, educator, activist, and wholefoods advocate working on community-based health initiatives. Born in the community of Washington Heights to a Puerto Rican mother and Ecuadorian father and raised in the Bronx, she currently resides in the NYCHA Marble Hill Houses since 1999.  Lucy started her journey on holistic living after leaving the fashion makeup and beauty industry in 2013, due to becoming ill working in a fast paced toxic environment.  Practicing ‘food as medicine’, non toxic living, naturopathic medicine modalities with the guidance of a Naturopathic Doctor to achieve true healing, led her to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, and in turn becoming an advocate for whole foods, food and health education, care for the environment and social justice.  Lucy cultivates a grassroots approach for restorative justice, to increase community health through mindfulness, education, access to healthy foods and resources, protecting green spaces to sustain and heal, to overcome health disparities caused by systemic oppression. She believes land liberation is key to overthrow the exploitative capitalist structure that promotes greed of resources, at the expense of poisoning the collective consciousness, the land and people; where profits are more important at the demise of all. 

Rebecca Amato is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Illinois Humanities and runs The Odyssey Project. She is the former Associate Director of the Urban Democracy Lab at NYU and Associate Faculty at NYU Gallatin. Her research interests focus on urban planning, land use, and memory practices with a special emphasis on mobilizing the public humanities for social justice advocacy. She holds a PhD in U.S. History from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Cesar Yoc is the Founder of the Bronx Institute for Urban Systems. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a Master in Urban Planning from CUNY Hunter College. He is currently the Project Manager of Mill Brook Garden, a Public Housing Garden constructed by residents of the Mill Brook Houses development. A member of Community Board 1 in the Bronx and co-founder of Concrete Green, a Bronx Based Cooperative.


gil lopez is an urban farmer, guerrilla gardener, environmental educator and professional composter. He is a co-founder of two gardens in Queens, Resistance is Fertile (2020) and Smiling Hogshead Ranch (2011). Since moving to NYC in 2010, gil has worked in the greenroof industry, taught at CUNY and worked at various nonprofits including the Queens Library, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Fortune Society and is currently the community outreach coordinator for the NYC Compost Project Hosted by Big Reuse. He has also been involved with the Flux Factory artist collective as a community organizing resident. Instagram him @glopezsez