Author Archive

Public Space and Housing

Perhaps this seems obvious, but given the continuation of such action as installing spikes or calling for police sweeps in areas utilized by those with nowhere else to sleep, it must be said: moves to improve public spaces should not involve making them less public. While the typical passerby may not consider the ramifications of an armrest bisecting a bench, these policies are in fact affecting housing in very real and significant ways. Our public spaces are often the homes of the homeless, and many of our public space policies are making these homes increasingly uninhabitable, if not outright criminalizing occupation of these spaces (through park curfews and sit/lie ordinances, for instance). It’s not enough to get people “off the streets”– they’ll just go to another one. Rather than force people into the same situations in different locations, as austere and exclusionary policies do, we need to put our efforts into enacting compassionate policies and programs. Public space ordinances affect housing and housing ordinances affect public space- the division between the two is neither binary nor clear cut.

I could write for pages and pages on all of the terribly-thought-out, counterproductive, and exclusionary policies out there, but instead, I’ll take the time to applaud the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness. With homelessness on the rise in both urban and suburban areas around the country, Mercer County has seen the number of homeless individuals decrease from 194 to 62 and the number of homeless families from 271 to 71, and not because they’ve closed off all their resources (as in DuPage County, IL). Instead, they’ve channeled their energies to provide permanent housing. Their Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing programs are described on their website as follows:

“Housing First is the favored approach for helping chronically homeless people return to society. Housing First maintains that the first step is housing, in the form of one’s own apartment, along with the necessary supports to succeed in making that apartment a permanent home. A trusted case manager helps the homeless individual or family resolve the problems that caused them to become homeless.

“Rapid re-housing is a set of strategies to help individuals and families quickly move out of homelessness and into permanent housing. This approach provides prospective tenants with housing options as well as ongoing support with the landlord, time-limited funding for rent, security and utilities and case managers, who provide services once the family is stably housed.”

The message of “Housing First” needs to be applied to any policies affecting the homeless, especially public space policies. It is simply unsustainable and ultimately counterproductive to push the unhoused from place to place- let’s take a page from the “Mercer Method” and handle the issue at its root.

Beyond Zuccotti Park Review: Food for Thought

Sam Halvorsen, PhD Candidate at University College London, wrote a very insightful review of Beyond Zuccotti Park in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Area, volume 45, issue 4. Halvorsen briefly introduces BZP, calling it:

a fantastic resource that combines empirical research, political interventions and interviews, broadly focused on exploring the role that public space can have in enhancing democracy in light of the Occupations that spread from downtown Manhattan to hundreds of cities worldwide.

He goes on to emphasize and outline the contributing authors’ intelligent discussion of the significance of physical spaces to the Occupy movement as he claims:

What makes this book stand out is the effort throughout to appreciate ‘the political power of physical places’, as Michael Kimmelman (p. xiii) puts it…The importance of a physical, public space (these terms are often conflated) for enhancing democracy is given numerous explanations by the different contributors: it provides visibility for movements and allows for discussion (Franck and Huang); it inspires and helps build mutual aid and solidarity (Shepard); it opens up a space of negotiation for greater rights (Smithsimon); it gives an ‘office space for everyday people’ (Golan); it presents a critique of spatial exclusion (Wiley); it creates places for new political subjectivities (Rios); and it encourages an embodied sense of community (Rose). This multiplicity of possibilities of physical space leads to a discussion on how best to produce urban space in order to foster these ideals. A key strength of this book is its inclusion of numerous urban practitioners, from artists to architects and planners to policymakers. By sharing their experiences with us, this book presents a hopeful intervention on the potentials of urban space post-Occupy, and allows us to re-imagine the agency of diverse actors in creating different kinds of democracies.

Halvorsen consistently provides perceptive commentary, and, as he brings the review to an end, he states:

In conclusion, I welcome this well-written and well-researched book, which provides significant food for thought for both academics and activists in the post-camp phase of the global Occupy movement.

A Call For Community Support

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As an advocate of Beyond Zuccotti Park, your engagement in the community has kept the conversations real and your purchases of our books have kept our mission alive. However, book sales alone, cover half the publishing costs, the other half comes from funding. Thats why, in a bid to underwrite the next year of publishing, Beyond Zuccotti Park’s publisher, New Village Press is calling all well-wishers, enthusiasts, advocates & patrons to join their Community Supported Publishing!

Support us in building vibrant, healthy and compassionate communities. Celebrate and reward the ingenuity and compassion of people rebuilding society. Help make the world a better place. Enable New Village Press to continue its work—the kind of specialized publishing commercial publishers fail to risk—and join the creative, citizen-initiated, social transformation movement. Together, we can lift society out of stuck places in ways that argument, armies, and legislation can never accomplish.

Please help spread the message and/or place your contribution here.

Beyond Resilience: Actions for a Just Metropolis

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Beyond Zuccotti Park’s publisher, New Village Press and its parent organization, ADPSR are among the sponsors and co-sponsors of progressive, practice-based planning conference, Beyond Resilience: Actions for a Just Metropolis. Held at New York’s Hunter College and Pratt Institute on June 6-8; planners, architects, designers, activists, and neighborhood advocates will gather to exchange ideas and perspectives to promote alternative, more sustainable, and just ways of preserving and developing the metropolis.

Contributing authors of Beyond Zuccotti Park count among the list of prestigious speakers:

  • Peter Marcuse leads a session about strategies and problems for the organization and promotion of Community Land Trusts in New York City and similar urban areas.
  • Marcuse will also be on a PN and Progressive Planning Magazinesponsored panel about how neoliberal approaches to housing, land development and urban planning sustain, reproduce and widen inequalities.
  • Jeffery Hou will join a panel that examines how cities and urban places can support cross-cultural interactions and learning, and how cross-cultural understanding can be engendered through social and spatial practices in the contemporary urban environment.
  • Raphael Sperry, President of ADPSR, will discuss how planning and architecture professions can engage with criminal justice and reform as part of a border movement for social justice.

Ticket and registration information can be found here.

Architect Michael Pyatok Presents Beyond Zuccotti Park

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Francesco Fiondella

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Francesco Fiondella

On May 21 in San Francisco, architect Michael Pyatok will present New Village Press publication, Beyond Zuccotti Park in an unusual outdoor program hosted by SPUR and New Village Press about the use, role, and importance of public space in a democracy. Don’t miss this public forum in the street (Annie Alley) adjacent to SPUR.

Michael Pyatok is designer of Oakland’s Civic Center and recipient of the 2013 AIA Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture.