Intervening a legal system for use of unused spaces

Collectively creating legal instruments drafted for and by communities and stakeholders for the use of unused spaces

This Recipe for

Collectively creating legal instruments drafted for and by communities and stakeholders for the use of unused spaces

Recipe source

This recipe is derived from The Convention on the Use of Space and composed by the Commons • Art team. The Convention on the Use of Space held public meetings to write a functioning, legally-binding convention on the use-value of housing with a focus on squatting, while problematising the manner in which law functions in relation to citizenship, democracy and precarity. In collective drafting assemblies a group of participants - including lawyers, activists, academics, squatters, researchers, and cultural workers - gather to work towards developing a piece of movement perspective legislation. Each of the five meetings focused on a different aspect of the law and produced different amendments. The topics discussed included: the legal form, de-criminalizing the subject, the right of use, modes of re-imagining and property as theft. The Convention on the Use of Space is a legal instrument drafted in response to the housing crisis: the lack of affordable homes, absence of provisions for those without legal rights to stay, rising rents, and the criminalisation of squatting. Its public drafting assemblies allowed for a discussion on the current status of housing in the context of The Netherlands, and for the concrete development of a legal tool towards making housing more equitable. Unlike other spaces where legislation is made, it actively invites those people to the table who are otherwise excluded, including: students, squatters, sans-papiers and precarious workers.

Background, situation & credit

The development of the The Convention on the Use of Space took place in the context of the exhibition White Paper at Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons in 2015. This exhibition was commissioned in collaboration with Beirut. Research for developing White Paper was supported by the European Cultural Foundation and the Kamel Lazaar Foundation. Production support was granted by the European Cultural Foundation Idea Camp, Young Arab Theatre Foundation, De.MO./Movin Up 2014, Italian MInistry of Culture and Tourism, Association for the Circuit of Young Italian Artists, and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.


Lawyers or people with legal knowledge and/or experience of squatting, other co-writers from different backgrounds, writing tools, meeting facility


Step 1

Work together with a local art institution that can facilitate a space and research needs under a 2-3 month period

Step 2

Determine how to break down the various issues you wish to address into thematic sub-sections. Write a short frame for these subjections with some of the things you want to research, questions you want to answer and proposals you want to draft.

Step 3

For each section, set up a drafting committee by inviting local activists, artists, squatters, locals, jurists as presiders. Each presider will chair and present during one meeting, and each presider invites three new members to their committee. All members are to be rewarded.

Step 4

Start by speaking to a lawyer knowledgeable in the field of housing laws in your respective area/country that concerns your to-be-drafted legislation.

Step 5

In each meeting you will focus on one section and study relevant national and municipal policies. Work together with a jurist and other researchers to gather these policies in advance and bring them to the attention of the relevant committees.

Step 6

Organize your public drafting meetings in spaces that are relevant to the cause.

Step 7

During the meetings each committee will be addressing their concerns and bring together relevant points and research.

Step 8

A lawyer that is present will translate the conversation into a legally binding draft.

Step 9

The revised and agreed upon convention can serve as a contracting document between parties (ex. Municipalities, states, cities, groups and legal entities) who will have the legal capacity to use the document as binding.

Step 10

Once the document is ready, committee members and stakeholders can lobby for it to be read, used and implemented in various offices and institutions. Legally, the document can be used in court where the judiciary could consider the text in their rulings

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The Convention works on many different levels; on the one hand, it is an experiment in writing. The Convention is used every time we have a meeting to sit down and activate conversations around how to write law, why the law is written, what the law does to the body, how law regulates. Of course, we do not have – and maybe we do not want – the capacity to enforce the Convention, which is a regulatory function of actual law. The State has the police, the military and all these organs to enforce its laws, while a para-legal systems such as this one, does not have a way to do that. Therefore the only ways in which it is useful is through voluntary implementation, and through implication in some ways. The more people implicated in it, either as part of the meetings, or as signees, or as people who support the Convention in one form or another, or use it in court as a supporting document, the more that happens, the more we have a capacity for movement building around what the Convention wants to say, do, and means. I think in terms of how it can be used: as a supportive document as I said, and as a document that becomes a sort of exercise in empowerment in some ways. Hopefully in different ways too, that we have not discovered yet.
- Adelita Husni-Bey in the conversation with Arte Util