Right to the City

In defense of public space (round 2)

This is so exciting! An updated version of the article published by the Wagner Planner, “In defense of public space,” has officially been published in NYU’s Wagner Review publication. They promoted it on twitter, tagging several authors mentioned in the article…THIS IS HUGE! I am so thrilled by Wagner students’ eagerness to promote the work of fellow students. I belong to a truly great community.

Read the article on the Wagner Review website, or read the text below.

As always, happy reading!

noun_766494-1noun_766494-1noun_766494-1


In 1968, the French Marxist philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, stated that the right to the city is “like a cry and a demand,” and Don Mitchell, author of The right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space, in the aftermath of 9/11 exclaimed that the right to the city is a right born from struggle that must be heard now more than ever and put into practice. Today we turn once again to the right to the city, especially in terms of the right to occupy public space in peaceful protest. Our country finds itself in a political awakening, rallying around deportation, climate change denial, the abortion ban, Islamophobia, and various other social grievances. Public space is required to engage in political protest, although it is important to understand that the idea of public space and its role in urban life has never been guaranteed. Therefore, a new wave of urgency emerges for planners to join in the struggle to help preserve the right to public space for political protest and civic engagement.   

The idea of privacy drastically changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. While the attacks reinvigorated a sense of nationalism and patriotism amongst the American people, the hastily adopted Patriot Act allowed the government to target American citizens through warrantless surveillance in hopes to intercept acts of terror organized from within the country’s borders. The NSA’s deliberate abuse of privacy was in direct violation of Fourth Amendment rights and remains controversial today not only for its unconstitutionality but for its ineffectiveness. Arguably the Patriot Act let the government exceed its authority over the American people, not effectively combat terrorism.

The idea and use of public space also changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th. In his book, Mitchell wrote that public space in urban areas was seen as a threat by security experts after 9/11, and there was a massive push to convert public space to ‘defensible space.’ He referenced an article in the New York Times written by David Barstow, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist who interviewed nine security and terrorism experts immediately following 9/11. Due to the attacks, each expert had embraced a “bunker, bomb-camp mindset,” and was willing to make New York City safe at any cost. When asked what it would take to make New York City safe without resource constraints, the experts envisioned a “city transformed,” complete with antiaircraft missiles protecting the Statue of Liberty, converting Times Square into a pedestrian mall to foil truck bombs, installing shatter-resistant film over the windows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, police regularly patrolling Grand Central with the aid of bomb-sniffing dogs, and beefing up security throughout the city, incorporating previously unpalatable tactics, such as increasing profiling and intrusive random searches and seizures. Mitchell further explained that the experts also unanimously agreed that it was now necessary to close off and secure “the steps to churches, cathedrals, and synagogues, [install] hundreds of surveillance cameras around important public spaces and along ‘vulnerable’ streets, [as well as install] more bomb proof windows, trash cans, and so forth.”

The sentiment to secure public space following the attacks on 9/11 was understandable, however, it further stifled with the publicness of public space, which had already been fortified in an effort to secure the city a generation earlier.According to Mitchell, the purpose of enhancing surveillance in New York City during the nineties was not to protect the city from terrorists, but to protect the public from ‘inappropriate users’ of public space, including the homeless, drug dealers, loitering youth, and, quite deliberately, political activists protesting outside of city hall, marching in the streets, or rallying in parks and squares. Therefore, in an effort to enhance security throughout the city in the nineties, officials also advertently thwarted the public’s means of dissent. Americans in the aftermath of 9/11 were warned to prepare for the elimination of certain civil liberties as well, much like how the right to free speech was undermined during social movements of the 1910s  and 1960s due to “spatial restrictions on where one [could] speak.”

The struggle over human rights and the right to occupy public space in the United States has been a relentless uphill battle for several decades. Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, tweeted in July that voting is “the most powerful non-violent tool we have.” Yet leading to the 2016 Presidential election, Lewis reminded the American people in an interview with ATTN: of the sacrifices required to win the right to vote: “People struggled to participate in the democratic process. People were shot, murdered.” Lewis proceeded to explain that during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, a group of activists attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery urging for the right of African-Americans to be able to vote; however, the police ordered for the march to cease, and people were brutally beaten and trampled by horses. Nevertheless, the sacrifices of civil rights activists from what became known as Bloody Sunday were not in vain. Finally, by August 6, 1965, African Americans won the right to vote when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

History has proven time and time again that struggle over basic human rights is a necessary precondition to guaranteeing and preserving the rights of American citizens. Necessary, yet oftentimes overlooked, however, is the role of public space in the fight for human rights. Access to expressive topography, or public space as platforms for public dissent, can be just as inequitable as access to the human rights we struggle for. There are several cases in the U.S. in which the privatization of government property has infringed upon access to public space and has negatively affected First Amendment liberties. In Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space, Margaret Kohn examines how the public forum doctrine – a law that categorizes government-owned property by its level of openness to public assembly and expression – enabled the government to prohibit unwanted speech in airports in the case of Lee v. Krishna Consciousness in 1992. Airport terminals are not traditionally designed for public expression; therefore, in the case, the higher standards of constitutional scrutiny established to protect First Amendment rights were unnecessary. The results of the case insist that not all public spaces are equal: political activity is protected in traditional public forums, whereas political activity is unprotected in other government-owned places.

This January, in response to the Trump administration’s executive order preventing travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S., some 80 countries around the world hosted protests lamenting the Muslim Ban. In Denver, Colorado, however, protesters were told by Denver Police Officers to put away their signs inscribing political messages because First Amendment rights were not protected without a permit. According to the airport’s rules and regulations, protest groups needed to apply for permits at least one week in advance. So although the ban was effective immediately, the public’s response was not afforded the same consideration. Their First Amendment rights were not accommodated. The demonstrations in and around airport terminals invoked incredible symbolic meaning as airports serve as the modern ports to the American Dream – for many they are also portals to safety and asylum – and they are precisely where supremely Syrian refugees and nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries were unlawfully turned away. Given the fervor amongst the American people to demonstrate their collective grievances provides all the more reason to protect their right to mobilize in public spaces, even in non-traditional ones. Like the Americans who struggled before us, we shouldn’t have to struggle for our rights, but we should be able to wherever our voices can be most effective and best heard.

Remaking cities in the likeness of openness and justice is more important now than ever as the new administration pushes for security and order. Considering the Administration’s proposed agenda for enhancements in defense spending and recent legislative proposals to limit protest rights, U.S. cities and public spaces are increasingly susceptible to being transfigured into defensible space – as had been done during the Civil Rights Movement and following the attacks on 9/11. As planners, we should do everything in our power to reorient public space to protect the ‘right to the city.’ Cities, as Anthony Vidler wrote in the New York Times, are the center of culture and public spaces define urban culture. From city streets to public parks and transportation, the purpose of public space should be re-prioritized for the present needs of the community, including civic engagement and protest. noun_766494-1

Standard
Community, Right to the City

Community, art, and placemaking: The incomplete transformation of The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery

“Give some of the streetscape back to the pedestrians”

– William H. Whyte

noun_766494-1noun_766494-1noun_766494-1

In the book, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Whyte (1980) foresees the increasing need for cities to seek opportunities for placemaking in small spaces. The Bushwick Collective is an outdoor street gallery that runs mainly along Troutman Street between Wyckoff and Cypress avenues in Bushwick, Brooklyn. If you’ve never been there, it is an extremely small space but it is an exemplary space. The area is fascinating because, despite its crime-ridden past, street art has livened up the old abandoned manufacturing buildings and has helped generate a booming street front, complete with cool bars and restaurants. Even the pizza chain, Artichoke Pizza, has entered the neighborhood on the corner of Wyckoff and Troutman, which is directly across the street from a giant Bushwick Collective mural of cartoon-like skulls reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. However, I would argue that the space is compromised by its appeal because of the Collective’s exclusivity regarding how they select street and graffiti artists, which impacts the types of audiences attracted to the space. I would also argue that the physical design of the space is in need of alteration considering the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as benches and trees, that would attract more members from the community. There are various ways to improve the area’s connection to the community and design.

Even though the area has reached great commercial success, the space is too disconnected from the community who live there. Physical distance from local residents is not the issue. Just a few blocks southeast of the Collective is a local nursing home, and just a few blocks east and west of the Collective are a couple of elementary schools. Although the physical distance between The Bushwick Collective and neighborhood residents is relatively small, the cultural divide is quite vast.

My main contention with the outdoor street gallery is that locals do not participate in co-creating the space. Only world renowned graffiti and street artists have the luxury of creating street art with The Bushwick Collective, if they are lucky. Space is limited and the Collective is very selective. I will say, it is important not to dismiss what The Bushwick Collective has achieved for street and graffiti art due to their expansive popularity. In many places graffiti art is still stigmatized and misunderstood as being associated with gang activity and vandalism, thus it is often widely discouraged and degraded to less than art. The work of The Bushwick Collective helps to reduce these stigmas. Furthermore, the Collective acquires permits for their art, and it is a safe place for artists to show off their talents. Despite all of the good The Bushwick Collective achieves for graffiti and street art and artists, the art has limited meaning to the community who have lived there for perhaps generations (before gentrification). While The Bushwick Collective focuses on garnering national and international talent to produce incredible works of graffiti art, it mainly attracts non-Bushwick natives. Visitors from around the world often go on walking tours to see the murals, and take selfies with the murals along the way. These tourists are often hipsters who also shop at the neighborhood’s overpriced vintage stores. But what about other members of the community? Where are they?

What you see is not always what you get. The overwhelming presence of hipsters at The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery and at the shops and restaurants popping up throughout the area (a token to the Collective’s spillover effects on local commercial businesses and housing prices) successfully masks what inspired Joe Ficalora to create the organization in the first place, which is actually deeply rooted in the neighborhood’s history and culture of violence and poverty. In fact, Ficalora had a rough childhood growing up in Bushwick. In the short documentary published by Tribeca Film called, “Born and Bred: The Bushwick Collective” (Hybenova, 2015), Ficalora talks about his story and why he got into street art:

My father got murdered. I was in eighth grade. He was murdered here in Bushwick, on Starr Street and Wyckoff. I asked some owners for permission to use their buildings for this idea, and they asked me, ‘For what?’ I said, ‘Well I gotta work here every day, I live here, I gotta drive this street every day. So when people come, they got something beautiful to look at.’

It takes a strong person to convert a space that evokes so much pain and suffering into a place that others can enjoy and appreciate; into a place that could fill others with hope and inspiration. What Joe Ficalora did with The Bushwick Collective was, for all intents and purposes, placemaking. But when I last went to The Bushwick Collective along Troutman Street between Wyckoff and Cypress avenues, the connection between the site’s current status and its legacy felt disjointed. Like with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, I was hoping the art would speak to me in some way; I was hoping it would tell a story with pictorial elegance of this place and the people who live here. It’s not that the art isn’t impressive, on the contrary, it is extraordinarily artistic and colorful. It may even have soul, but it does not contain the soul of this neighborhood.

It’s not that the art isn’t impressive, on the contrary, it is extraordinarily artistic and colorful. It may even have soul, but it does not contain the soul of this neighborhood.

Joe Ficalora’s vision for beautifying the Bushwick streetscape and placemaking is incomplete without enhanced community ownership. As noted earlier, street art along The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery is not co-created by the community. Other non-profit organizations with similar missions of beautifying decaying neighborhoods in outer New York City boroughs, such as 7 Train Murals in Queens, have done remarkably well at involving the local community in beautification projects. On their website, 7 Train Murals proudly proclaims in all capital letters, “ALL MURALS 100% PAINTED AND MAINTAINED BY VOLUNTEERS WHO LIVE AND WORK IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD!” (n.d., p. 1).  By contrasting the missions of these two nonprofits it is easy to see the difference in priorities between a community-based mural organization and an outdoor street gallery featuring artists from all over the world.

In the book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Whyte (1980) explains that city streets serve as informal recreation areas. He hinges his analysis on observations he made of the street life on 101st Avenue in East Harlem. On 101st street, the street was the play area – not because children had no other place to play, but because they liked to play on the street (Whyte, 1980, p.10-12). In addition to serving as a play area, a city street is something of an “art area” for children to create and recreate the streetscape. In Bushwick, children often draw colorful figurines and hop scotch games onto sidewalks and streets during the summer. The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery is the perfect place to activate neighborhood children in the arts and harness their creative minds through the co-creation of murals along with professionals and other community members. To avoid mission creep, perhaps The Bushwick Collective could partner with the City, local schools, businesses, non-profits, and/or organizations to co-sponsor this type of artwork. However, the issue of children lacking exposure to art may already be near and dear to Ficalora’s heart because in the short film he mentions not having access to artistic pathways growing up (Hybenova, 2015). Perhaps he would be open to expanding his legacy and impacting the community in this profound way, too. Additionally, to further engage the surrounding community, The Bushwick Collective could partner with other organizations to participate and sponsor in neighborhood networking clean-up events, which is another creative idea developed by 7 Train Murals.

In addition to engaging children and the community in placemaking, expanding the publicness of The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery requires important structural elements, too. In my most recent visit to the space, I noticed there were very few benches to sit on, which were all fixed, shallow and very uncomfortable looking. Few trees lined the sidewalks to shade pedestrians from blazing hot summer days. According to Whyte (1980), the availability of sitting areas impacts the usage of the space. Therefore, more benches may attract the elderly, such as those living in the nearby nursing home, who may wish to admire the art but have nowhere to sit.

More benches may attract the elderly, such as those living in the nearby nursing home, who may wish to admire the art but have nowhere to sit.

A critical juncture to optimizing the publicness of the space would be to permanently close off The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery from cars altogether (particularly along Troutman Avenue, between Wyckoff Avenue and Saint Nicholas Avenue). Closing off the street to cars would make it safer for children to play in the street; it would allow the space to act more as a public plaza, opening up the street for outdoor seating, street vendors, and three dimensional artsy structures. However, a barista informed me during one of my observations of the space that street parking is an issue in the area, and local shop owners and trucks park along the street in the mornings until about one in the afternoon. Still, considering the level to which The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery is already public, and in spirit of Whyte’s plea to “give some of the streetscape back to the pedestrians” (p. 100), a compromise, at the very least, should be considered.

Since I moved to Bushwick in January of 2014, I have admired the The Bushwick Collective outdoor street gallery, and how frequently the street art changes like the seasons. It’s like I get to experience my neighborhood for the first time all over again each time a new mural goes up. Surely, The Bushwick Collective have helped liven up a neighborhood previously known for high crime rates and abandoned manufacturing buildings, which felt more like streets lined of abandoned dreams. The organization has successfully transformed a space into a place, and involving the community in placemaking and incorporating structural improvements would help complete its transformation. noun_766494-1


UPDATE (3/30/2017): I have contacted Joe, the creator of The Bushwick Collective, to gather more information (that may not be available on the web) regarding whether or not The Bushwick Collective has had the opportunity to partner with local public schools or community-based groups/organizations to create murals in the neighborhood. And if this is something The Bushwick Collective has done in the past, or if this something that the organization is potentially interested in doing in the near future. There may be bottlenecks to such collaborations (particularly with the City) to which I am currently unaware. I really look forward to hearing from him (fingers crossed). Hopefully more to follow on this soon. Thanks for reading!

References

7 Train Murals. (n.d.). 7 Train Murals [Website home page]. Retrieved on March 27, 2017, from Link

The Bushwick Collective. (2017). The Bushwick Collective: Facebook homepage. Retrieved from Link

Hybenova, K. (2015, June 4). Tribeca Film published a short film about The Bushwick Collective: Just in time for this Saturday’s Bushwick Collective Block Party, Tribeca Film. Bushwick Daily. Retrieved from Link

Whyte, W. H. (1980). The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. New York, NY: Project for Public Spaces.

Standard
Right to the City

Normalizing Dissent in Public Spaces (Part 1)

Not only is this post long overdue (broken ribs are no joke!), but it is incomplete. It is actually a final research paper proposal for my class on Public Space and Urban Identity.

I thought I would go ahead and post the proposal in case any of you are interested in public space and public place law. Keep in mind that when I post the final product, much of the content may change. It will indeed expand, including the existing sections. So if you feel like some information is missing, hang tight!

Also, your feedback is welcome! Especially if you have ideas about how to answer some of the research questions below.

If any of you are in touch with a lawyer (or law student) who is familiar with public place law, time, place and manner restrictions, and/or the classification of public forums that would be extremely helpful as I embark on this journey! They can reach me via email at jordan.cosby@nyu.edu or through this site on the Contact page.

Thanks for your patience. As always, happy reading!

The above photo shows hundreds of people gathered to voice their dissent in Washington Square Park in January after President Trump ordered the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexican border, and announced new deportation schemes targeting undocumented immigrants. (Photo credit: Christopher Lee for The New York Times

noun_766494-1noun_766494-1noun_766494-1


Description

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have gathered in public spaces throughout the country in response to various social grievances over the course of U.S. history. The most recent upheaval has been regarding Trump’s executive orders on immigration. The executive orders and DHS memos explaining how the orders will be carried out are highly exploitative, which include: the travel ban to 6 Muslim countries; the U.S./Mexico wall; enhanced vetting processes for refugees; more than halving the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. per year; as well as massive deportation efforts of undocumented persons.

In the wake of recent protests, it is imperative to regularize dissent in public places and to eliminate laws that forbid or restrict expressive conduct in public spaces by way of privatization of public land. The categorization of public forums may also need to change in order to better preserve and protect the freedom of speech, urban life, and democracy. The research paper will explore these concepts, but will first explain the following: the importance of the democratic culture of debate and dissent in urban life; why public spaces are important to urban life and democracy; and how the privatization of government property has infringed upon First Amendment liberties under the property rights approach to public space.

The democratic culture of debate and dissent is important to urban life. Cities embody diversity, and are composed of a variety of sexual, religious, racial, gender, and socio-economic identity groups. Because of their diversity and density, cities are hubs of social innovation and knowledge exchange, thus they have a greater capacity to expose citizens to diversity of thought. Diversity of thought is integral to the urban experience and to urban life; it is a critical impetus for the democratic culture of debate between identity groups; and it produces an expressive culture in which people communicate dissent for inequality and injustice. According to Nan D. Hunter of Georgetown University Law Center, “Virtually all of the American civil rights movements since World War II have embodied the harmony between identity and dissent that exists in social practice” (2000, p. 2).

Public spaces are important to urban life and democracy, and serve as important platforms for exercising diversity of thought and First Amendment liberties. In “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,”  Nancy Fraser, the Professor of Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at The New School in New York City, states that the public sphere is “indispensable to critical social theory and to democratic political practice” (1990, p. 57). There needs to be an adequate supply of material space in order for the public to exercise First Amendment liberties. However, the existence of public space – “expressive topography” – has diminished over the past several decades due to privatization and development (Zick, 2008).

The privatization of government property has infringed upon First Amendment liberties. In the third chapter of Brave New Neighborhoods, The Privatization of Public Space, Margaret Kohn (2004) points out that the laws governing public space can both enrich or inhibit a democratic culture of debate and dissent. For the case of Lee v. Krishna Consciousness in 1992, the public forum doctrine enabled the government to prohibit unwanted speech on its property because airports were not considered traditional public forums; therefore, the higher standards of constitutional scrutiny in place to protect First Amendment rights were not necessary (Kohn, 2004). The results of this case insist that not all public spaces are equal: political activity is protected in traditional public forums, whereas political activity is unprotected in other government-owned places.

We need a different approach to public space. Under the ‘property rights’ approach, public space has been reimagined as private space owned by the government. In “The Public Forum Doctrine,” Margaret Kohn (2004) states that due to this phenomenon, public space “can be regulated in whatever manner the responsible government agency sees fit” (p. 38). As Kohn points out, this same logic applies to the Lee v. Krishna Consciousness case, and this policy gives an enormous amount of discretion to administrative agencies in determining what, if any, political activities are compatible with other, ‘principal’ uses (Kohn, 2004).

Regularizing dissent as a principal behavior – or at least a normative behavior – in public spaces, increasing expressive topography, and eliminating the laws that forbid or restrict expressive conduct in public spaces will help ensure First Amendment rights are preserved and protected. A generous portion of the final paper will be dedicated to how these political fetes can be accomplished, which require further research in order to give full treatment to policy alternatives.  

Research questions for investigation

How can dissent in public spaces be regularized? What would be the normative or legal standards that need to change in order to regularize dissent in public spaces? Would regularizing dissent involve dismantling the hierarchy of ‘principal’ uses of public spaces, or placing First Amendment rights at the fore?

How can the expressive topography be increased and enhanced, especially given the various – and often opposing – interests of government and the public?

How can new approaches to public space be adopted that do not inhibit/forbid/restrict expressive conduct in public spaces (i.e. the ‘private property’ approach to public space)?  

Should the legal framework that categorizes public forums (the public forum doctrine) change to better preserve and protect the freedom of speech, urban life, and democracy? If so, what would an alternative look like? How would that alternative form of regulation be implemented? noun_766494-1

References

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text, 25(26), 56-80. link

Hunter, N. D. (2000). Expressive Identity: Recuperating Dissent for Equality. Georgetown University Law Center. Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/118   

Kohn, M. (2004). Brave New Neighborhoods. The privatization of public space. New York: Routledge, Chapter 3. Retrieved from link 

Zick, T. (2008). Speech Out of Doors: Preserving First Amendment Liberties in Public Places. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Retrieved from link

Standard
Right to the City

In defense of public space: Why planners should protect the right to occupy public space in the Trump Administration

I am delighted to announce that In defense of public space was published in the Perspectives: Spring 2017 Issue of the Wagner Planneran independent student newsletter of the Urban Planning Students Association (UPSA) at NYU Wagner. Many thanks to the publication’s editors, Niki Kokkinos and Ashley Smith, for taking an interest in my passion for preserving and re-imagining the role of public space in urban life, which is more important now than ever.

“‘In Defense of Public Space,’ urges us to consider the level of access, freedom, and mobility we should expect from public space within the dense urban environment.”

Editors Niki Kokkinos and Ashley Smith, the Wagner Planner

“Thank you for writing about a relevant topic that is sure to continue to be relevant throughout the next 4 years.”

– Editor Niki Kokkinos, the Wagner Planner

The full article is below. To read the article in the Wagner Planner, please click on the following link: In defense of public space: Why planners should protect the right to occupy public space in the Trump Administration.

The feature image depicts brave women and men protesting during the Women’s March 2017 in Washington D.C. Feature image credit: Chang W. Lee, The New York Times

noun_766494-1noun_766494-1noun_766494-1


In 1968, the French Marxist philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, stated that the right to the city is “like a cry and a demand,” and Don Mitchell, Professor of Geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse, in the aftermath of 9/11 exclaimed that it is a right bourne from struggle that must be heard now more than ever and put into practice.[1] Today we turn once again to the right to the city, especially in terms of the right to occupy public space in peaceful protest. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, the nation finds itself rallying around deportation, climate change denial, the abortion ban, Islamophobia, and various other social grievances. Public space is required to engage in political protest, although it is important to understand that the idea of public space and its role in urban life has never been guaranteed. Therefore, the Trump Era requires a new wave of urgency for planners to join in the struggle to help preserve the right to public space for political protest and civic engagement.

The idea of privacy drastically changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. While the attacks reinvigorated a sense of nationalism and patriotism amongst the American people, the hastily adopted Patriot Act allowed the government to target American citizens through warrantless surveillance in hopes to intercept acts of terror organized from within the country’s borders. The government agency responsible for intelligence collection is the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA typically collects and processes data for foreign intelligence and counterterrorism purposes, called ‘signals intelligence.’ However, after the enactment of the Patriot Act, the NSA secretly began collecting an alarmingly wide array of personal information from the American people through phone records, computer records, credit history, and banking history. Personal information suddenly became accessible to over 34,000 law enforcement and intelligence agents through the issuance of administrative subpoenas, or National Security Letters (NSL), which are used to gather information for national security purposes without a judge’s approval. If anyone receives an NSL, they are prohibited from telling anyone, which has been alleged unconstitutional in several legal cases.[2] The NSA’s deliberate abuse of privacy was in direct violation of Fourth Amendment rights, and remains controversial today not only for its unconstitutionality, but for its ineffectiveness. Arguably the Patriot Act let the government exceed its authority over the American people, not effectively combat terrorism.

The idea and use of public space also changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th. In his book, The right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space, Mitchell wrote that public space in urban areas was seen as a threat by security experts after 9/11, and there was a massive push to convert public space to ‘defensible space.’ He referenced an article in the New York Times written by David Barstow, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist who interviewed nine security and terrorism experts immediately following 9/11. Due to the attacks, each expert had embraced a “bunker, bomb-camp mindset,”[3] and were willing to make New York City safe at any cost. When asked what it would take to make New York City safe without resource constraints, the experts envisioned a “city transformed,” complete with antiaircraft missiles protecting the Statue of Liberty, converting Times Square into a pedestrian mall to foil truck bombs, installing shatter-resistant film over the windows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, police regularly patrolling Grand Central with the aid of bomb-sniffing dogs, and beefing up security throughout the city, incorporating previously unpalatable tactics, such as increasing profiling and intrusive random searches and seizures.[4] Mitchell further explained that the experts also unanimously agreed that it was now necessary to close off “the steps to churches, cathedrals, and synagogues, [install] hundreds of surveillance cameras around important public spaces and along ‘vulnerable’ streets, [as well as install] more bomb proof windows, trash cans, and so forth” (p. 1).[5]

Public space in urban areas was seen as a threat by security experts after 9/11, and there was a massive push to convert public space to ‘defensible space.’

The sentiment to secure public space following the attacks on 9/11 was understandable, however, it further stifled with the publicness of public space, which had already been fortified in an effort to secure the city a generation earlier. The purpose of enhancing surveillance in New York City during the nineties was not to protect the city from terrorists, but to protect the public from ‘inappropriate users’ of public space, including the homeless, drug dealers, loitering youth, and, quite deliberately, political activists protesting outside of city hall, marching in the streets, or rallying in parks and squares. Therefore, in an effort to enhance security throughout the city in the nineties, officials also advertently thwarted the public’s means for dissent. Americans in the aftermath of 9/11 were warned to prepare for the elimination of certain civil liberties as well, much like how the right to free speech was undermined during social movements of the 1910s and 1960s due to “spatial restrictions on where one [could] speak” (p. 4).[6]

The sentiment to secure public space following the attacks on 9/11 was understandable, however, it further stifled with the publicness of public space, which had already been fortified in an effort to secure the city a generation earlier.

The struggle over human rights and the right to occupy public space in the United States has been a relentless uphill battle for several decades. Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, tweeted in July that voting is “the most powerful non-violent tool we have.”[7] Yet leading to the 2016 Presidential election, Lewis reminded the American people in an interview with ATTN: of the sacrifices required to win the right to vote: “People struggled to participate in the democratic process. People were shot, murdered.”[8] Lewis proceeded to explain that during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, a group of activists attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery urging for the right of African Americans to be able to vote; however, the police ordered for the march to cease, and people were brutally beaten and trampled by horses. Nevertheless, the sacrifices of civil rights activists from what became known as Bloody Sunday were not in vain. Finally by August 6, 1965, African Americans won the right to vote when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.[9]

History has proven time and time again that struggle over basic human rights and the right to occupy public space in this country is a necessary precondition to guaranteeing and preserving the rights of American citizens. The 2017 Presidential Inauguration on Friday, January 20th, 2016 will prove to be no different, especially given Trump’s hostile attitude towards anyone who delegitimizes his presidency, and the militarization of the public space surrounding his 5th Avenue apartment. The American people will rally outside of the White House to protest the election and violations of their basic civil liberties, until protesting in such a visible space is overcome by the need to render it utterly defensible, and people are ordered to disperse. However, given the fervor amongst the American people to assemble in front of the White House (and elsewhere), demonstrating their collective grievances, provides all the more reason to protect their right to mobilize in public spaces. Like the Americans who struggled before us, we shouldn’t have to struggle for our rights, but we should be able to.

History has proven time and time again that struggle over basic human rights and the right to occupy public space in this country is a necessary precondition to guaranteeing and preserving the rights of American citizens…Like the Americans who struggled before us, we shouldn’t have to struggle for our rights, but we should be able to.

Remaking cities in the likeness of openness and justice following the 2016 Presidential election will be harder than ever as the new administration pushes for security and order, and transfigures public (and private) space into defensible space as has been done during the Civil Rights Movement and following the attacks on 9/11. However, to recast the words of Don Mitchell, it is also more necessary than ever. As planners, we should do everything in our power to reorient public space for this purpose, and to protect the ‘right to the city’ because cities, as Anthony Vidler wrote in the New York Times, are the center of culture and public spaces define urban culture.[10] From city streets to public parks, and from public transportation to city processes, the purpose of public space should be re-prioritized for the present needs of the community, including civic engagement and public protest. noun_766494-1

References

[1] Mitchell, D. (2003). The right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space. New York, New York: The Guilford Press.

[2] O’Cleirigh, F. (2015, April). Bill Binney, the ‘original’ NSA whistleblower, on Snowden, 9/11 and illegal surveillance. Computer Weekly. Retreived from link

[3] Barstow, D. (2001, September 16). After the attacks: Security; Envisioning an expensive future in The Brave New World of Fortress New York. New York Times. Retrieved from link

[4] Barstow, D. (2001, September 16). After the attacks: Security; Envisioning an expensive future in The Brave New World of Fortress New York. New York Times. Retrieved from link

[5] Mitchell, D. (2003). The right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space. New York, New York: The Guilford Press.

[6] Mitchell, D. (2003). The right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space. New York, New York: The Guilford Press.

[7] Fang, M. (2016, October 3). Rep. John Lewis: Voting is ‘the most powerful non-violent tool we have.’ The Huffington Post. Retrieved from link

[8] ATTN:. (August 2016). “The right to vote is precious.” VIDEO: link

[9]History. (n.d.). Voting Rights Act. Retrieved on January 15, 2017, from link

[10] Vidler, A. (2001, September 23). Aftermath; A city transformed; Designing ‘defensible space.’ New York Times. Retrieved from link

Standard
Right to the City

The Planner’s Role in the Deployment of the ‘Right to the City’

Introduction

This article focuses on the relationship between the planner’s role and the deployment of ‘right to the city’ (RTTC) as an orienting principle. First, various definitions of the concept are explored, beginning with Lefebvre’s initial development of the RTTC concept in 1968 followed by two more recent and divergent interpretations, with Harvey appealing to Marx and Engels and de Souza appealing to libertarian views. Through these interpretations the historical context of RTTC is provided, as well as how it has become relevant to principles and practices of urban planning and development today. Lastly, the paper chronicles the role of planning as it has been and as it currently is before moving on to explore RTTC as a normative concept that could help us to imagine what planning should be in principle and in practice.

Definition and Emergence of RTTC

Historically there have been thousands of urban protests all over the world. Some groups have apprehended the term “right to the city” as a slogan for various recent urban protests; however, what these various groups understand and intend is often quite unclear. While urban protests have arisen for various nominal reasons, such as disgust with political oppression, protests against cuts in urban services, frustration with unemployment, high college tuition, and destruction of park and open space, Richard T. LeGates and Frederic Stout (2016), editors of the latest edition of The City Reader contend, “protestors often include a broad spectrum of people excluded…who are angry for a wide variety of personal and philosophical reasons” (p. 270). Purcell (2003) posits that for decades right to the city movements and initiatives have conjured in conflicts over a broad scope of urban issues: housing, against patriarchal cities, for participatory planning, and against social exclusion in cities.

According to LeGates and Stout (2016), “the term ‘right to the city’ refers to both a concept developed by Marxist geographers and a slogan adopted by young people, the poor, and individuals and groups around the world who feel they have been excluded from aspects of city life” (p. 270). The movement is characterized then, as the public’s response to neoliberal urbanism and the disenfranchisement and political and economic restructuring of cities that ultimately threaten democracy in urban governance (Purcell, 2003).

Concepts of the ‘right to the city’ were first introduced in 1968 by French Marxist philosopher, sociologist and geographer, Henri Lefebvre in his book of the same name, Le Droit á la ville. He developed the term as a result of alienated university students in France who were protesting over the development of the left bank expressway, the invasion of central Paris, and the destruction of traditional neighborhoods with towering high rises, such as Place d’Italie and the Tour Montparnasse (LeGates and Stout, 2016). Due to this phenomenon in Paris, Lefebvre predicted the ever-expansiveness of the urban process by acknowledging early on that it had started “obliterating the distinctions between town and country through the production of integrated spaces across the national space if not beyond” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 274). Also during this time, the right to the city was falling into the hands of quasi-state and non-state institutions: local governments had undergone a massive structural reorganization that involved contracting out services to volunteer organizations and private firms as well as transferring much of their power and responsibility over to complex networks of new state, quasi-state, and non-state institutions all in an effort to become more competitive in the global economy. As a result of this structural reorganization, theorists including Lefebvre were worried that local governments were becoming driven solely by capitalist accumulation, and would resolutely exclude local inhabitants from decisions that shaped their cities. Therefore, RTTC arose out of fear that as local government institutions were evolving into more complex sets of institutions, they too were growing increasingly less accessible to residents. In response, Lefebvre created RTTC to counteract the growing disenfranchisement of urban inhabitants and provide marginalized urban populations some renewed form of democratic control (Purcell, 2003).

Mark Purcell (2003) of the University of Washington differentiates what Lefebvre means by the right to the city from how it could be misinterpreted:

I suggest that Lefebvre’s right to the city is an argument for profoundly reworking both the social relations of capitalism and the current structure of liberal-democratic citizenship. His right to the city is not a suggestion for reform, nor does it envision a fragmented, tactical, or piecemeal resistance. His idea is instead a call for a radical restructuring of social, political, and economic relations, both in the city and beyond (p. 101).

Thus, intrinsic to Lefebvre’s idea of the right to the city (RTTC) was the reframing of decision-making processes in cities by reorienting decisions about the production of urban space away from capital and the state towards urban inhabitants (Purcell, 2003).

To understand Lefebvre’s vision of the right to the city, it is important to clarify three key elements of the movement: what is meant by urban space, who constitute urban inhabitants, and the rights in which they are entitled. Lefebvre defined urban space as perceived space, conceived space, and lived space, which constitute all aspects of urban life. Therefore, the right to the city focuses on enfranchising people with respect to all aspects that produce urban space, and is about the right to urban life (Purcell, 2003). Stemming away from conventional enfranchisement, which typically aims to empower national citizens, it is important to note that the right to the city seeks to empower urban inhabitants (or citadins) who are members of the community and live out their daily lives in the city. Therefore, urban inhabitance is the dominant basis of political membership as opposed to national citizenship, and political identity takes precedence over national identity (Purcell, 2003).

Urban inhabitants maintain two principle rights under the right to the city movement, including the right to participation in any decision that affects the production of urban space in any given city, and the right to appropriation, meaning the right to physically access, occupy, and use urban space (Purcell, 2003). Lefebvre extends the right to appropriation beyond space that is already produced, but to produce undeveloped space that would meet the needs of inhabitants (Purcell, 2003). Therefore, the right to appropriation principally stands against conceptions of urban space as private property by the capitalist production process. Overall, Lefebvre’s vision of RTTC is one of radical transformation of urban social and spatial relations (Purcell, 2003).

Current relevance and interpretations of Lefebvre’s RTTC

In 2008, Geographer David Harvey revived and popularized RTTC in his article of the same name: “I here want to explore another kind of collective right, that of the right to the city…there is a revival of interest in Henri Lefebvre’s ideas on the topic…there are various social movements around the world that are now demanding the right to the city as their goal” (LeGates and Stout, p. 272). Harvey wrote his article during the early stages of the global financial crisis, and soon after his article published there were hundreds of thousands of disenchanted people protesting in the streets of Tahir Square in Egypt, Taksim Square in Istanbul, and Zuccotti Park near New York’s Wall Street against a variety of grievances. Harvey (as cited in LeGates and Stout, 2016) appeals to Marxist theory and distinguishes the right to the city as being a collective right as opposed to an individual one because exercising collective power is necessary to change the city and impact processes of urbanization. Furthermore, Harvey’s sense of the right to the city involves empowering the public to shape processes of urbanization and how cities are made and re-made through fundamental and radical approaches. But before the right to the city can be carried out, Harvey (as cited in LeGates and Stout, 2016) claims that “we must first reflect on how we have been made and re-made throughout history by an urban process impelled onwards by powerful social forces” (p. 272), which ever grow in scale and scope as urbanization progresses.

Harvey explains the shift in scope of the urban process from local to global by recounting various ways in which urbanization has helped resolve capital surplus absorption problems throughout recent history, meanwhile distressing marginalized populations and isolating them from those processes. Harvey refers to the ways in which Haussmann and Robert Moses attempted to resolve capital surplus absorption problems in 19th century Paris and in 20th century New York City, whose modernist projects were successful, but due to the scale of development and expansion, they hollowed out the core of their central cities. The brutality of modernity in both Paris and New York City had caused social urban crises. Minorities revolted – chiefly African-Americans in New York City and the Paris Commune that led the French Revolution – who all longed for their city as it was before Haussmann and Moses dispossessed them of their local neighborhood aesthetic and culture (LeGates and Stout, 2016). Harvey recalls, too, the 1968 revolt in Paris that rallied against “high rise giants” that heralded Lefebvre to coin the term “right to the city.”

Harvey fasts forward to contemporary society to underpin urbanization’s role in stabilizing chronic capital surplus disposal problems and international capitalism crises and crashes. He looks at the United States in the early 2000s, when the property market stabilized chronic capital surplus disposal problems through new construction and the rapid inflation of housing asset prices. He asserts the importance of U.S. urban expansion in stabilizing the global market as it borrows roughly $2 billion daily to fuel its insatiable consumerism and the debt-financed war in Afghanistan and Iraq (his paper was published before the termination of these armed conflicts in 2011). Next Harvey illustrates that building booms and mega-urbanization projects around the world have turned the urban process global, not only cities in core capitalist countries, such as, London, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York, but other bourgeoning cities around the world, such as Mexico City, Santiago in Chile, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Seoul, Moscow, Taipei, Spain, and Dubai. To the latter example he claims is soaking up surpluses in “conspicuous, socially unjust, and environmentally wasteful ways” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 275). Harvey then asserts that the new financial institutions helping to sustain the global urbanization boom – by spreading risk but without adequate risk assessment controls – have caused the mortgage market to get out of hand, which in turn caused “a so-called sub-prime mortgage and housing asset-value crisis” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 275).

Harvey posits that the most recent radical expansion of the urban process has transformed lifestyles so much so that the quality of urban life is measured by the accumulation of commodities for those with money. Harvey claims that possessive individualism is so strong that there has been a “political withdrawal of support for collective forms of action [which are manifested through homeowner associations acting as] fragmented neighborhood fascisms” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 276). Under these conditions, Harvey claims that “ideals of urban identity, citizenship and belonging, already threatened by the spreading malaise of the neoliberal ethic, become much harder to sustain” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 276). Criminal activity prompting police suppressions in communities where there are highly unbalanced distributions of wealth, Harvey claims, exacerbates the issue, and further obfuscates the idea that cities might function as a collective body politic. Furthermore, surplus absorption through urban transformation evokes the repetition of urban restructuring through what Harvey calls “creative destruction,” in which the poor and underprivileged are marginalized from political power and are the ones who suffer most from this molding and remolding of the urban process. Because surplus absorption through urban redevelopment causes displacement of oppressed groups, Harvey says that “accumulation by dispossession” remains central to the urban process under capitalism. Therefore, Harvey’s main argument for using urbanization as a means for absorbing capital surpluses is because it does so – in ever increasing scales – at the expense of any right to the city that the urban public might have, as has been seen in Paris in 1871, in urban social movements of the 1960s, and throughout the world today. Harvey calls for a contemporary version of 1968 or of the Commune if a broader crisis ensues once the hitherto successful neoliberal, postmodernist and consumerist phase of capitalist absorption of surplus through urbanization comes to an end (LeGates and Stout, 2016).

Signs of revolt are everywhere, and Harvey claims that any could become contagious; however, a connection is lacking between them, and they are difficult to converge because the urban process has become global in scope. Despite bottlenecks, Harvey has seemingly found the point of convergence: “At this point in history this has to be a global struggle predominantly with finance capital for that is the scale at which urbanization processes are now working” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 278). Harvey conceives that if these diverse social movements converge, they should demand greater democratic control over the production and use of capital surplus. Harvey claims that since “the urban process is a major channel of use, then the right to the city is constituted by establishing democratic control over the deployment of the surpluses through urbanization” (LeGates and Stout, 2016, p. 277).

Marcelo Lopes de Souza, a professor of geography at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, avers that the right to the city has become “fashionable these days,” resulting in a trivialization and corruption of Lefebvre’s concept. In his paper, Which right to which city? In defence of political-strategic clarity, Marcelo Lopes de Souza criticizes Harvey’s understanding of Lefebvre’s concept throughout the paper for doing just that. He claims that by maintaining a non-reformist understanding of RTTC, Harvey “reaches beyond the usual academic level of critical analysis in order to make political-strategic evaluations and recommendations. However, from a libertarian point of view, his words sound very much like an attempt to see (partially) new phenomena…through old lenses: namely through the lenses of statism, centralism, and hierarchy” (de Souza, 2010, p. 315). Marcelo Lopes de Souza (2010) posits that in many cases, the right to the city seems to mean the following: “The right to a better, more ‘human’ life in the context of the capitalist city, the capitalist society and on the basis of a (‘reformed’ and ‘improved’) representative ‘democracy’” (p. 317). He then warns that those who choose to uphold RTTC without equivocating must take heed to Lefevbre’s radical path: “’the right to the city’ for Lefebvre was not reducible to the right to better housing, lower rents, etc. in the framework of the capitalist city…but the right to a very different life in the context of a very different, just society” (de Souza, 2010, p. 318).

Marcelo Lopez de Souza (2010) is reluctant to accept or suggest a unanimous definition for “right to the city,” and posits that as far as emancipatory social movements and radical intellectuals are concerned, it should be regarded as “contested territory” because there are real risks in the vulgarization and domestication of Lefebvre’s phrase by “status-quo-conform institutions and forces” (p. 316). He claims that “right to the city” in the view of conformist institutions (i.e. contemporary NGOs and “development” agencies) often only means opposition to gentrification and an urban politics consisting merely of “politics of turf.” Marcelo Lopez de Souza espouses that this can be a legitimate beginning, but is ultimately insufficient because it lacks strategic goals and a general framework for thinking and action (de Souza, 2010, p. 317). He criticizes Harvey for mistaking the local and regional roots of social movements for a narrow “politics of turf” and parochialism, which de Souza (2010) claims, “grossly misrepresents many of today’s most important social movements” (p. 322-323). Some social movements organize at the local level because the local level is the clear priority, whereas for others it is a matter of necessity:

Poor activists from ‘(semi) peripheral’ countries cannot afford to travel around the world as campaigners…emancipatory movements such as the Zapatistas, South Africa’s Abahlali base Mjondolo (shack dweller’s movement), the most radical parts of the Argentinian piqueteros and the Brazilian sem-teto, and so on…are very often open to ‘transnational activism’…as far is possible given the material constraints they face (p. 323).

Therefore, de Souza thinks Harvey gives the impression that these movements subject themselves to narrow-minded localism, while de Souza (2010) argues that these represent a form of “militant particularism,” whereas other movements have also achieved “supralocal relevance” (p. 328). According to de Souza, Harvey (2010) cannot help himself – as a more or less orthodox Marxist – from “dreaming of unifying ‘visions’, ‘transformed’ left-parties, centralistic and statist solutions, ‘seizing state power’, and so on” (p. 326). Therefore, it is challenging for de Souza to accept Harvey’s push for the convergence of various right to the city movements at the global scale.[1]

Marcelo Lopez de Souza (2010) further criticizes Harvey for suggesting that anti-capitalist revolutionary movements ignore the state and the dynamics of the inter-state system. He claims that “in fact, even Spanish anarchists already knew that a radical opposition to the state…is not the same as ‘ignoring’ the state apparatus” (p. 326), and, “social movements must learn to deal with the state with pragmatism, but also without illusions” (de Souza, 2010, p. 329). Regarding the role of institutions in promoting social movements, de Souza espouses that the “institutional struggle” can – at best – “play a supplementary role in relation to direct action” (p. 329), though institutions cannot replace the work of direct action. Marcelo Lopez de Souza (2010) clarifies the role of the state in the promotion of social movements:

The state is not a ‘partner’…the state apparatus as such is an enemy, even if it is sometimes (dialectically) more or less genuinely open to pressures from below as a government. To which extent this openness can be used by social movements (instead of the movements being instrumentalised by the state), is something which has to be decided on a case-by-case basis (p. 329).

Marcelo Lopez de Souza further suggests social movements talk and articulate amongst each other without seeking uniformity. Finally, he suggests that social movements have to continuously reinvent themselves and avoid “the colonization of radical slogans and concepts” (de Souza, 2010, p. 330) – such as the right to the city – and learn to cope with various challenges along the way.

Theoretical and historical relevance of RTTC to urban planning

Both Lefebvre and Harvey insist that the right to the city revolution must be urban. It could be inferred from Harvey’s hitherto argument espousing the democratization of the right to the city movement that planning in theory and in practice today must adapt to the pressures of current events necessary to reconstruct society, and help the historically marginalized and isolated groups actualize their collective right to shape and create urban space in any given city. However, from the libertarian perspective of Marcelo Lopez de Souza, as actors working for the state – or for NGOs to international and national urban development agencies such as UN Habitat –planners cannot directly participate in right to the city movement. Considering these disparate views, it would be important to understand how planners can promote right to the city concepts – if at all fully or partially – and how the role of planners should adapt in order to help deploy them. This section seeks to explain the role of planning as it has been, especially in terms of facilitating public participation processes, and as it currently is before moving on to explore RTTC as a normative concept that could help us to imagine what planning should be in principle and in practice to promote RTTC concepts.

The right to the city presupposes that ‘citadins’ have the ability to define social problems and formulate and implement plans to address them; this pragmatic connection has been traditionally foreign to the field of planning and has yet to fully materialize. Charles Hoch from the University of Illinois at Chicago writes in Doing Good and Being Right: The Pragmatic Connection in Planning Theory how the philosopher John Dewey’s idea of human action and theories conceived by several mainstream American planning theorists have attempted to reconcile between two dichotomies: the planner’s efforts of doing good (which emphasizes the effect of planning on society) and being right (which emphasizes the methodological or technical qualities of planning and rationality). For planners interested in being right, according to Hoch (1984), “planning denotes a technical activity that is justified by the ability to analyze events coherently and accurately” (p. 335); whereas planners interested in doing good “refer to planning as a predominantly moral and political preoccupation” (p. 335). To bridge the gap between doing good and being right, Hoch explains that mainstream planning had used a framework to combine identification of problems, formulation of plans, and democratic participation; however, the resulting framework underestimated the power of bureaucratic authority, economic exploitation, racial and sexual discrimination, and other forms of social domination that diverge communities and hinder their ability to collaborate and determine mutual goals (which are all common features of RTTC). Particularly with regards to public participation, Hoch (1984) claims that mainstream planning theorists were unable to bridge social conflict and antagonisms through participation in pragmatic inquiry considering the struggles planners continuously face with power relations: “in light of the numerous empirical accounts of centrality and dominance of power relations in the formation and realization of plans, it seems difficult to adopt the essential elements of pragmatic planning theory in any consistent and practical manner” (p. 342). Hoch exclaims that planners cannot ignore the practical development of plans, which are guided more by politics than by argumentation over who is right or who development should benefit. He advocates for a reconstructed pragmatic theory of planning that defines problems in terms of the histories and locations of people, and explores how people learn to collaborate via strengthening emotional bonds amongst diverse groups of people, securing a common purpose, and legitimizing democratic participation, despite the uncertainty posed by control of corporate and government bureaucracies so that planners can help facilitate this pragmatic process (Hoch, 1984).

If the idea is for planners to utilize the right to the city as an orienting principle to guide more equitable development, then the current legal framework for participation needs to radically change so planners can facilitate this process. In Reframing Public Participation: Strategies for the 21st Century Judith Innes and David Booher maintain that collaborative participation methods can better meet public participation goals and have greater merit and legitimacy than the standard, legally required methods of community participation of today (i.e. mandatory hearings and comment periods), which are insufficient because they cause mistrust and can often be counterproductive. Collaborative participation engenders more effective representation in which all communities are represented in a multi-way set of interactions, builds the capacity for civic engagement, and fosters meaningful and inclusive dialogue, which allows for issues to be dealt with in constructive ways. Integral to the collaborative participation process, is that it requires for each interest group (i.e. community members, developers, and city officials) to be open to engaging in mutual learning, and that their views are malleable to such the extent that they can reach consensus, which is the objective.

If planners offer the dispossessed rights to urban space and property title it does not mean the poor have the capacity to exercise those rights. Ananya Roy, a professor of Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, posits, “it is the right to the city that is at stake in urban informality [and] in the struggles of urban space in American cities” (Roy, 2005. p. 155). Therefore, Roy (2005) urges planners to be concerned with distributive justice – “to whom things belong” (p. 155) – and to pay attention to “the use value claims that constitute the right to the city” (p. 155). Much of the policy response to urban informality has been towards slum upgrading and land titling; however, the challenge for planners, according to Roy (2005), remains to realize wealth transfer, not just wealth legalization: she uses cases in Bogota, Colombia and Peru to thereby suggest that ending informality does not necessarily de facto end poverty (p. 152). Thus, Roy (2005) raises the question: “Is the right to participate in property markets the same thing as participation in property markets?” (p. 152-153). Roy (2005) references Donald A. Krueckeberg, a former professor and Associate Dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policymourn at Rutgers University, when she avers that property is a set of relationships held between the owner and others’ claims to the thing; thus, property is a set of rules that establish who has the power to include or limit who has legitimate claims on property. In this view, Roy (2005) confers that property systems are monopolistic, and that it is insufficient to offer the dispossessed the right to participate in property markets without policymakers guaranteeing the right to participate in the market “by directly addressing inequality” and distributive justice issues (p. 153). Planners, then, according to Roy (2005), are important for the development of informal urban areas in conformance with distributive justice because the planning and legal apparatus of the state maintain the power to construct and reconstruct legitimacy and illegitimacy, and to determine what is informal from what is formal (p. 149). However, Roy (2005) posits that states are not benevolent actors in the promotion of legalization, and that promoting distributive justice requires “working through rather than against institutions power” (p. 155). To the question of whether it is possible for planners to be subversive when complicity to the system predominates, Roy (2005) is reluctant to state, “this is a question that planning has long struggled with and that cannot be fully resolved” (p. 155).

Without explicitly referencing the right to the city, in 1978 Harvey wrote, “On Planning the Ideology of Planning,” which implies deploying RTTC concepts into the practice of urban planning. According to Harvey, the role of the planner is to help ensure the creation of a built environment that serves the purposes of social reproduction, creates conditions for balanced growth, and avoids crisis and civil strife as best as possible through repression, cooptation or integration. Like Roy, Harvey says that in order to achieve redistributive justice, planners must consider how everything in the urban system relates, including the tensions between competitive, monopolistic, and state production of the built environment with regards to conflicting class and divisive requirements (i.e. the tensions between different interests of the landlord, laborer, developers, capital managers of financial institutions, local business interests, etc.). In the 1960s, this meant the planner acted as an advocate for the poor and underprivileged by responding to urban riots to control civil strife, however by the late 1970s, Harvey wrote that the ideology of urban planning shifted to fit the economic realities of the time. Here Harvey alludes to the idea that the ideological stance of the planner must adapt to the pressures of current events to reconstruct society.

Conclusion

The planner’s role may need to change in order to execute RTTC concepts into planning practice in order to better respond to racial, economic and environmental justice issues. Although urban planning theorists such as Roy and Harvey have urged planners to create political environments that ensure more equitable growth and development, it remains an obstacle for planners to achieve in reality. Perhaps the political spheres and bureaucracies in which planners work prohibit them from being completely subversive, as Roy suggests, but that hardly means planners should succumb to complicity with the status quo or repressive policies, especially when redistributive injustice remains a threat to the world’s poor and politically marginalized. Given the political environments in which planners operate, it remains unclear whether planners can steer clear from falling victim to trivializing and corrupting Lefebvre’s concept of the right to the city, as Marcelo Lopes de Souza warns. If the planner’s role seems insignificant in the context of the right to the city given this context, perhaps to make it more meaningful involves working to legitimize democratic participation processes, creating opportunities for communities to be represented in a multi-way set of interactions, and strengthening emotional bonds amongst diverse groups of people, as Innes and Booher and Hoch suggest – and to do so despite the uncertainty posed by control of corporate and government bureaucracies. noun_766494-1

Notes

[1] Furthermore, the convergence of different movements with seemingly similar objectives “in plain view” has historically proven to distort the original intentions of those movements and has wildly distorted desired outcomes. The urban crisis in the United States is notorious for conflating different economic and social issues. James DeFilippis from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University writes in, Collective ownership and community control about how the convergence of the community control movement with elements of the black power movement, including the promotion of black economic development and the push for black capitalism, for example, and the ambivalence about particulars allowed black capitalism to become the dominant form of black economic “community” control by the end of the 1960s. Therefore, “The radical potential of demands for black economic power thus became co-opted and transformed into simply a debate about how to best reproduce capitalist practices in black urban neighborhoods. The road of collective community control and empowerment was not taken” (DeFillippis, 2011, p. 274). 

References

DeFilippis J. (2011). Collective ownership and community control. In: Fainstein SS and Campbell S (eds), Readings in Planning Theory, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 268–291.

De Souza, M. L. (May 2010). Which right to which city? In defence of political-strategic clarity. Interface. 2(1): 315-333. Retrieved from link 

Harvey D. L. (1978). On Planning the ideology of planning. In: Burchell RW and Sternlieb G (eds), Planning Theory in the 1980s: A Search for Future Directions, Rutgers University Center for Urban Policy Research.

Hoch, C. (1984). Doing good and being right: The pragmatic connection in planning theory. Journal of the American Planning Association, 50:3, 335-345. DOI: 10.1080/01944368408976600

Innes, J. E., & Booher, D. E. (December 2004). Reframing public participation: Strategies for the 21st century. Planning Theory & Practice, 5(4): 419-436.

LeGates, R. T. and Stout, F. (2016). The City Reader. (6th ed.). London and New York, NY: Routledge.

Lopes de Souza, Marcelo (May 2010). Which right to which city? In defence of political-strategic clarity. Interface, 2 (1): 315–333. Retrieved from link 

Purcell, M. (2003). Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant. GeoJournal, 58: 99–108. Retrieved from link 

Roy, A. (2005). Urban informality: Toward an epistemology of planning. Journal of the American Planning Association, 71(2): 147-158.

Standard