Community, Immigration, Right to the City

My Visual Portfolio

Here’s a preview of my visual portfolio!

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To see the full portfolio please download by clicking on the following link: Jordan’s visual portfolio


Want to collaborate?

Need a new team member? Want to know more? Are you in the Greater NYC area and would like to meet up for coffee? Let’s link up!

Use the below contact form to send me an email and I’d be happy to meet you and see how our interests collide! noun_766494-1

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Community, Right to the City

“Shaping urbanization for children”: A handbook for planners – created with UNICEF

I had the honor of working with Jens Aerts, an Urban Planning Specialist at UNICEF, to create a handbook for urban planners to better plan cities for and with children. The general idea is that if cities are planned with children in mind, the most vulnerable population, then cities are made safer for all, and more conducive for a more productive, healthier, and enjoyable life. Below is an introduction to the handbook, its purpose, a list of the 10 guiding principles for children’s rights and urban planning, as well as the essential “Why, What, How” to plan cities for children.

August 29th, 2018 UPDATE: Unfortunately, the handbook has not officially launched yet to the UNICEF website. Below is a brief description of the handbook. Stay tuned for the official launch! noun_766494-1

Please fill out the contact form at the bottom of this post if you would like to receive an email from me that will direct you to the handbook the day it launches.

Image credit: UNICEF/UNI123447/Pirozzi


Purpose of the Handbook

Shaping urbanization for children, a handbook on child-responsive urban planning, presents concepts, evidence and technical strategies to bring children to the foreground of urban planning. By focusing on children, this publication provides guidance on the central role that urban planning should play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from a global perspective to a local context, by creating thriving and equitable cities where children live in healthy, safe, inclusive, green and prosperous communities.

The handbook aims to inspire everyone involved in planning, designing, transforming, building and managing the built environment:

  • Urban planning professionals that use different tools in spatial planning and stakeholder engagement on a daily basis to help shape the built environment;
  • City governments that are responsible for city development and management decisions;
  • Private sector, such as developers, investors, service providers and technology companies that build the large majority of urban infrastructure;
  • Civil society organizations that support local communities in raising their voices to define which spaces, services and land are needed.

 

The 10 Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles

The handbook is structured along 10 Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles that cities should commit to so they will not only support children’s development, but thrive as homes for future generations:

Principle 1: Investments – Respect children’s rights and invest in child-responsive urban planning that ensures a safe and clean environment for children and involves children’s participation in area-based interventions, stakeholder engagement and evidence-based decision making, securing children’s health, safety, citizenship, environmental sustainability and prosperity, from early childhood to adolescent life.

Principle 2: Housing and Land Tenure – Provide affordable and adequate housing and secure land tenure for children and the community, where they feel safe and secure, to live, to sleep, to play and to learn.

Principle 3: Public Amenities – Provide infrastructure for health, educational and social services for children and the community, which they have access to, to thrive and to develop life skills.

Principle 4: Public Spaces – Provide safe and inclusive public and green spaces for children and the community, where they can meet and engage in outdoor activities.

Principle 5: Transportation Systems – Develop active transportation and public transit systems and ensure independent mobility for children and the community, so they have equal and safe access to all services and opportunities in their city.

Principle 6: Integrated Water and Sanitation Management Systems – Develop safely managed water and sanitation services and ensure an Integrated Urban Water Management system for children and the community, so they have adequate and equitable access to safe and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene.

Principle 7: Food Systems – Develop a food system with farms, markets and vendors, so children and the community have permanent access to healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food and nutrition.

Principle 8: Waste Cycle Systems – Develop a zero waste system and ensure sustainable resource management, so children and the community can thrive in a safe and clean environment.

Principle 9: Energy Networks – Integrate clean energy networks and ensure reliable access to power, so children and the community have access to all urban services day and night.

Principle 10: Data and ICT Networks – Integrate data and ICT networks and ensure digital connectivity for children and the community, to universally accessible, affordable, safe and reliable information and communication.

The “Why, What, How” to plan cities for children

The handbook answers three questions:

  1. Why planning cities for children matters, collecting the evidence on the urban specific vulnerabilities of the most disadvantaged children and explaining how urban planning can support urban programmes for children.
  2. What to plan for children, based on the 10 principles and resulting in sustainable and children’s rights-based urban places, systems and networks that ensure children’s health, safety, citizenship, environmental sustainability and prosperity, from early childhood to adolescent life.
  3. How to plan for children, reviewing urban planning tools and practice that illustrates how cities can be planned to be child-responsive, building on three potential strengths of urban planning: to provide space for children, to include children in the process of change and to develop urban policy that is based on child-specific evidence.

Within the handbook there is a central place reserved for a checklist Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles that allows every stakeholder to quickly evaluate what can be done to take up responsibilities and improve the situation of children, respecting capacities and resources. The checklist takes a central place in the handbook, providing the main reference for starting, monitoring and evaluating investments of every stakeholder involved in child-responsive urban planning, in the short-term, mid-term and long-term. noun_766494-1

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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!

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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