Urban Politics 2

This week’s readings seemed to be directly related to the idea of politics in the city, the use of public space and the voices (or lack thereof) of the urban citizen. The first article I read was titled, “Young people’s voiceless politics in the struggle over urban space” by Kirsi Kallio and Jouni Häkli. The article discussed the lack of direct political engagement by the youth of Oulu, Finland after a popular park they frequented was slated to be gated, and have its hours restricted to appease property owners in the surrounding neighborhood. Though the plan caused a national dialogue in Finland, an indirect nod to politics of the city, the affected youth body remained silent and did not voice protest about the restrictions of their public space.

Two ideas directly related to our class discussions can be seen in this article. Gentrification seems to be the root issue for this conflict in the first place, the city of Oulu decided to revitalize an area known to be home to a homeless population, and also popular with the youth of the city. The city sponsored the building of luxury residences, and businesses in this area expecting to push the youth and homeless populations out of the area, but instead they stayed. The end result was a gentrified neighborhood, with the old cultural group still within its boundaries, turning the public space of the new park into their new “hang out”. Ultimately the new residents blamed the government for not pushing the youth out, and the ensuing dispute over the use of public space ensued.

The other idea, and the central theme in this article, is this idea of “voiceless politics”. At first this phrase implies a a certain political disinterest by the youth towards the issue, but that is far from the case. According to the authors, political power here came not from the voice of youth, but from their actions. The youth controlled the park by continuing to go to it and use it as they saw fit, even when the controversy was continuing to escalate. This type of political power, to me, is a fascinating concept and something that you never really think of when it comes to a “protest movement”. I suppose you could apply this concept to someone like Rosa Parks, taking direct physical action rather then protesting through “voice”.

The other article I read was “The ‘Occupy’ Movement: Emerging Protest Forms and Contested Urban Spaces” by Judy Lubin. In class we often debate whether the Occupy Movement was politics of the city, politics in the city or both. This article seems to make it seem as if it was both, though the protests occurred in public space in the city, they were about globalization and processes larger then the city unit. Just like the last article, protesters took control over public spaces, but in this instance the protest was not voiceless. In a show of protest against the corporations the occupiers took to the space and reclaimed it for the public and then went on to encamp in the space. As the author said, to the occupiers a public space “would become a square of liberty.” That is, until they got kicked out by the police and government. The occupiers were asserting their rights as citizens, and their right to use the city as they saw fit, but they were also protesting global issues. In this way I believe that the occupy movement really was both politics of the city and politics in the city.

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