Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Occupy Reroots the Urban Space

Stahl, K. A. ‘How the Occupy Movement Changed Urban Government’, The Atlantic Cities (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2012/02/how-occupy-movement-changed-urban-government/1130) Accessed 07/02/12

Kenneth A. Stahl sees the Occupy movement as one that re-establishes the value of place in the city. He views the city as increasingly moving away from the specificity of place, and instead moving towards a mobile, global idea of space. The city space, as used by the global companies, is not valued for its specific spatiality. Competition from other cities means that companies could potentially just as easily settle for, and in, another city. So city officials do whatever it takes to make the space more desirable – the bums are moved on, tax breaks, zoning, etc. This is also done to draw in a shopping crowd, away from suburban malls, and these shoppers are termed “mobile consumers”; the city must work to keep them and ply them with amenities. The logic behind these “mobile consumers” and also the mobile global industries, is that 'they are all presumed to be freely mobile and indifferent to particular places, and whether they stay or go depends on whether they are plied with the right package of incentives and disincentives.’ Stahl compares this to the tactics used to get the “undesirables” out of these areas as well, which is an interesting idea as similar tactics are used to control all levels of traffic. So benches are shortened so they cannot be slept on, to make the space less attractive to homeless people and more attractive to consumers.

On the whole, these tactics seem to be quite successful, but that is where Stahl points to the Occupy movement’s success. The moment a group re-establishes the value of place, and solidifies the locality to the place, a mild package of incentives and disincentives loses all power and effectiveness: ‘This logic breaks down, however, when an individual or group of individuals refuses to treat a specific public space with indifference, when, in other words, it decides that a particular place is critical to its being, its identity, or its conception of community.’ If people tie themselves to a specific place, whether Occupy to Wallstreet, or a group of homeless people to Tompkins Square Park (1991), the gospel of mobility is shattered: 'In establishing flimsy tent-cities in actual urban spaces and refusing to leave, the Occupy protests mocked the idea of mobility peddled by urban officials. More than that, they implicitly advocated the notion that urban areas are places bound up with the identity of local communities, rather than disposable products in a global marketplace.’

Indeed, I think I agree with Stahl that one of the effective elements of the Occupy protests is the stasis they introduce into the middle of the seemingly mobile city environment. The tent city forms roots into the pavement and blocks the well-worn path that the “mobile consumers” both on an industrial and domestic scale travel, and disregard, daily.

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