The Occupy Movement and the New Public Space - Nate Berg via The Atlantic Cities ⇢
Nate Berg asks a valid question — should we have publicly usable space set aside for special purposes in our cities, and which groups could occupy for whatever purpose? — but I think his answer blunts the purpose of protest, like Occupy Wallstreet:
Nate Berg via The Atlantic Cities
There is no blank slate autonomous public space. But maybe that’s what we need: a space empty, unowned and ungoverned but by the public that chooses to use it as needed or desired. Stripping the governmental public of its stewardship, this public space would exist under the watch of the public of people. Those people – whoever they are and in whatever numbers arise – could decide that this public space should be a place to express disfavor with the financial system, or they could decide that it should be used by homeless people as a campsite. Or it could host a rave or a parade. It could be a gathering place or showcase for the concerns and triumphs of a given city or community or neighborhood, uses which would develop organically, and prosper or be replaced as needed or desired by the public. Petitioning the government would become petitioning ourselves.
Admittedly idealist and utopian, this new form of public space would also be a new form of citymaking, one that embraces the continually changing nature of a city and its people. A space like this would act as a thermometer of the ideological or political fever within a community, flexible and nimble and as open to change as to good ideas. As opposed to a park that’s built for a specific type of interaction with space, this new public space would be able to play host to the variety of desires and intentions the public may have.
This demand for a new type of public space hasn’t been explicitly stated by the occupiers or by their opponents but rather by the entire situation, from 360 degrees. Cities still aren’t sure what to do with the movement’s campsites because they’ve challenged the accepted concept of using public space. It seems we all know they can’t be doing this in parks, but can’t they? Shouldn’t they be able to? For now, within our current system, the answer is no, or sometimes maybe, but not forever. Creating this new sort of truly public space may be just as insurmountable a challenge as dramatically changing the world financial system. But like the Occupy movement’s call to rethink the way that system works, this may be a mechanism to change the way we think about what we as a public want and need from our public spaces, and what exactly public should mean.
Occupy Wall Street and other related groups are protesting our situation, now, in today’s cities. The intention is to cause a disruption of business as usual, and to initiate that constituent moment, as Jason Frank terms it, where the attempt to speak out against injustice becomes a legitimate ground for political authority.
Berg’s proposal is perhaps for a future someday, when our institutions are more bottom-up, or we aren’t confronted with such a stark boundary between the 99% and the 1%. And make no mistake: the use of our shared space in cities is completely controlled by the 1% and their machinery.