Law’s Preciseness Paradox

Yip, M., & Ruegg, J.

The law’s preciseness paradox: Interpreting the unrecognisable spaces in the sharing urbanism


Legal geographies of spatial regulation
Geographies of the law. Inquiries into the space-law tangle
Interdepartmental Research Centre for Urban Studies, the University of Turin
Turino, Italy (Online)

While spatial practices and ideas performing the rhetoric of sharing are transforming cities worldwide, the sharing urbanism challenges the urban legality, questioning whether the law restricts or facilitates changes in urban spatiality. Shelly Kreiczer-Levy argues the access economy, as the increasingly flexible access in property use characterises the sharing economy, challenges the connection between property use and stability which is implicated in property law and theory. We bring this further, the sharing urbanism is not concerned only with the law and theory of property, but also with that of urban planning and more generally the urban. The COVID-19 pandemic particularly exposes an intriguing paradox of the law in the sharing urbanism for governing the newly emerged fluid and flexible spaces, which are sometimes legally undefinable, uncategorisable, and unrecognisable: the law is not sufficiently precise, but it is also hard to go further precise. Some might consider these regulatory shortcomings as legal loopholes, the powerful’s weapons. But, following Amelia Thorpe’s work on the flexible and temporary use of street spaces and Martin Müller’s call for the productive use of paradoxes’ ambiguity, approaching this preciseness paradox of the law in progressive and imaginative ways is productive. The observation of space sharing during the pandemic in Lausanne and Hong Kong, two seemingly unrelated cities, provides cases about coworking spaces and party rooms which unfold the complexities between illicit and illegal uses of urban space. The urban and planning laws neither permit these property uses nor forbid them. We suggest that the law should not be too precise, because its updates cannot be constantly faster than rapid and creative urban changes. While the law is likely to remain imprecise, it simultaneously offers constraints and openness; the law is inherently open for multiple and plural interpretations to constitute the interrelated world of the sharing urbanism.