“The Right to the City” Movement

The two articles that I chose to focus on were “The ‘Occupy’ Movement: Emerging Protest Forms and Contested Urban Spaces” by Judy Lubin and “Young People’s Voiceless politics in the struggle over urban space” by Kallio Kirsi Pauliina and Hakli Jouni. While both articles were written by different people and, even though it was a short amount of time, were written in different years, there was one topic in each article that I found important and intriguing in helping to understand urban politics.

The one thing that both articles had in common was “The Right to the City” movement. The movement, as described by Henri Lefebvre, focuses on a “demand…for a transformed and renewed access to urban life. The right of the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.”

The ‘Occupy’ Movement articles looks at “The Right to the City” when it describes the scenario where thousands of protestors flocked to New York City’s Zucotti Park in a planned action against corporate power, political corruption, and economic inequality. The ‘Occupy’ Movement challenged the use of public spaces and worked to transform and renew access to urban life by turning a mostly concrete park into a public square. It did so by reclaiming a once-corporate public space for the people. The protests occurring on this land were in opposition to corporate culture. The reason this protest received so much media attention was due to the evictions of protestors from these public spaces. Most of the protestors being evicted during this movement were among the 99 percentile which were described as those that not only struggle with money issues but were also the ones that would not longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percentile (those considered rich). The protestors claimed that they had a right to occupy an urban setting because it was a public space (voiced politics).

The flip side to this coin was the article written by Pauliina and Jouni. The article focused on the City of Oulu. The problem was that many of the residents of this small city were complaining that the public park surrounding their properties was being misused by the youth’s of the city. The protesting over this movement went on for about 10 years and the Technical Center, the youth work, the social welfare, and the police were unable to take control over the area that was owned by the city. Why? The youth’s of that city were practicing voiceless politics. They claimed the park as their own by persistently using the park to their own purposes in their own ways, regardless of the punishments they received and the physical changes that the area went through. As a result, “The Right to the City” movement became prominent here. The residents surrounding this park demanded a transformation of their urban life by protesting that gates be put up and that certain parts of the park be closed down to the general public to maintain general order and safety, to protect the city property, to improve housing conditions and to promote equal use of the park. The city had its requests granted and because of the increase in police management as well as other measures being put into place, the youth’s ended up leaving the area and moving on to other places.

Both articles suggest that urban politics played a key role because both articles focused on the politics of space and spatial relationships. The protestors of the ‘Occupy’ Movement wanted to re-occupy a public space that was being controlled by corporate owners. While one of the outcomes of this movement lead to violence between protestors and police officials, the end result was that park services began enforcing regulations that allow tents to remain on the site yet prohibited protestors from camping overnight. This solution was more favorable toward out First Amendment right than toward the solution of eviction, which created more problems. The city of Oulu had issues with the residents having to occupy the same space as youth’s without proper zoning areas implemented so both groups of people could coexist together. As a result, city residents pushed for regulations to be implemented to prevent the youth’s from having access to the ‘public space.’ The residents had to ‘exercise a collective power to reshape’ their city.

Both articles suggest that there is an unequal balance of power to try and control the use of public spaces. In my opinion, anything that is titled “public space,” is considered open to the public. Whether that is a park in the middle of New York City or a park in the middle of a residential area; it is still a public place that the city owns and anyone should have the privilege of using that space.

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