The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space / Edition 1 by Don Mitchell | 9781462505876 | NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space

The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space

by Don Mitchell

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Includes a 2014 Postscript addressing Occupy Wall Street and other developments. Efforts to secure the American city have life-or-death implications, yet demands for heightened surveillance and security throw into sharp relief timeless questions about the nature of public space, how it is to be used, and under what conditions. Blending historical and geographical


Includes a 2014 Postscript addressing Occupy Wall Street and other developments. Efforts to secure the American city have life-or-death implications, yet demands for heightened surveillance and security throw into sharp relief timeless questions about the nature of public space, how it is to be used, and under what conditions. Blending historical and geographical analysis, this book examines the vital relationship between struggles over public space and movements for social justice in the United States. Don Mitchell explores how political dissent gains meaning and momentum--and is regulated and policed--in the real, physical spaces of the city. A series of linked cases provides in-depth analyses of early twentieth-century labor demonstrations, the Free Speech Movement and the history of People's Park in Berkeley, contemporary anti-abortion protests, and efforts to remove homeless people from urban streets.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this wide-ranging tour de force, Don Mitchell offers us a rich and geographically grounded exploration of struggles over urban public space. This is scholarship in the best sense of the word: politically engaged, theoretically informed, and powerfully argued. Urban public space emerges not only as a site of brutal and often violent control, but also as a space of liberation and hope. Mitchell shows us that public spaces—the streets and parks of the everyday—matter, and are worth fighting for."—Nicholas K. Blomley, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada

"Don Mitchell packs a wallop like the pamphleteering Marx. Polemical, stirring, and angry, this book is required reading for anyone who cares about the fate of our cities and our fragile democracy."—Andy Merrifield, Graduate School of Geography, Clark University

"This provocative work asserts that the right to public space is crucial to advancing the cause of justice. Complex yet comprehensible, the book balances the ideas of legal scholars, cultural theorists, and social scientists with Mitchell's singular voice based on his extensive thinking and research in the area. Mitchell thoughtfully argues that the struggle for rights actually produces public space and thus insists that rights be taken seriously, especially by leftist scholars, as they are central to counteracting exclusionary practices and the pervasive power of the state. This book is especially appropriate for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses on the city."—Sallie A. Marston, Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona

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The Right to the City

Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space
By Don Mitchell

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2003 The Guilford Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57230-847-8

Chapter One

From Free Speech to People's Park Locational Conflict and the Right to the City How much farther do we have to go to realize this is not just another panty raid? -Governor Ronald Reagan (May 20, 1969)

Conflict over rights often resolves itself into conflict over geography, as the Supreme Court's evolution of public forum doctrine has made plain. Space, place, and location are not just the stage upon which rights are contested, but are actively produced by-and in turn serve to structure-struggles over rights. Conflict over rights can therefore be understood, at least in part, as a species of locational conflict. Rights have to be exercised somewhere, and sometimes that "where" has itself to be actively produced by taking, by wresting, some space and transforming both its meaning and its use-by producing a space in which rights can exist and be exercised. In a class-based society, locational conflict can be understood to be conflict over the legitimacy of various uses of space, and thus of various strategies for asserting rights, by those who have been disenfranchised by the workings of property or other "objective" social processes by which specific activities areassigned a location. In this sense, locational conflict is often symbolic conflict, in that the conflict is waged through the deployment of highly symbolic actions. That is, it is waged through a combination of speech and action-the two things the Supreme Court works so hard to keep apart. In fact, the very space of struggle itself comes into being and is defined in locational conflict because speech (communication) and action (conduct) are simply inseparable. Further, and again because speech and action are inseparable, geography matters.

That might seem axiomatic, or in fact just tautological-that in locational conflict geography matters-but it is surprising how often it is forgotten that in any kind of social struggle, even struggles regarding place and location, geography, or more precisely the ongoing history of locational conflict, is simply forgotten. Take, for example, a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing what the paper sees as a new trend in speech codes: the development of specific "free speech zones" on college campuses (Street 2001). More and more campuses, according to the Chronicle, are developing specific places in which free speech is allowed and restricting it in others as a means of balancing "between universities cherishing the right to free speech and needing to run an institution," as a Dean of Students from UC Berkeley puts it (Street 2001, A38). The Chronicle argues that the development of such zones continues a history of debate over speech codes that erupted in the 1980s when several universities attempted to regulate hate and other harassing speech. Many of these codes were struck down by the Supreme Court, and universities thus turned to public forum doctrine to assert their legitimate right to regulate the "time, place, and manner" of speech. There is nothing particularly wrong with this history until the paper asserts that "Tufts University may have been the first [to create a free speech zone]. In 1989, the university, in an attempt to restrict so-called hate speech, designated 'free speech zones' in certain areas of the campus" but quickly dropped the policy when students protested (Street 2001, A38).

The problem with this account is that, despite the fact that the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement (FSM) is referenced in several places in the article, the spatial history of that movement-the very fact that the movement erupted in part as a result of the university's attempting to create and enforce specific free speech zones, what the university called "Hyde Park areas"-is lost. That history, as we will see, not only was concerned with the right to speak but also developed as a struggle for an appropriate place to speak. Lost too in the Chronicles account is the fact that nearly all California public universities quickly developed specific free speech zones-often in heavily trafficked locales-in response to the Berkeley FSM. Tufts was not first university to demarcate a free speech zone on campus, though it may be the case that the specific politics of regulation driving the current wave of zone demarcation is different than it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

Exploring one of these earlier attempts to zone speech, and the famous reaction it called up, the Free Speech Movement, will help us see that by examining conflict over speech as conflict over location we can learn a great deal about how rights are fought for, claimed, undermined, and reinforced in "actually existing capitalism." Let us delve, therefore, into the specific spatial history of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in particular, and the changing radical politics of Berkeley in the 1960s more generally. Doing so will shed a good deal of light on current attempts to zone speech and conduct, attempts often couched not as a means of eliminating dissent but of promoting "quality of life."


As a semipublic property, as something like a "dedicated public space" (in the language of the Supreme Court's public forum doctrine), the UC Berkeley campus became an early staging ground in the battles over the redefinition of political, property, and social rights that wracked Berkeley (and the nation) in the 1960s. Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California from 1958 to 1966 (when he was removed from office in one of Governor Ronald Reagan's first official acts), understood what was at stake in the first militant battles over free speech at Berkeley in 1964:

A few of the "non-conformists" have another kind of revolt [than one against the university] in mind. They seek instead to turn the university, on the Latin American or Japanese models, into fortresses, from which they can sally forth with impunity to make their attacks on society. (quoted in Draper 1966, 206)

For his part, Kerr had a rather different vision for the university in modern society. Writing in The Uses of the university, Kerr (2001 [1963]) saw the university and surrounding community as being, in part, a laboratory for the creation of a new and more rational society. The university had an important role to play in the drive toward a rational and managerial political economy. Relabeled by Kerr, the "multiversity," the university was to specialize in the "production, distribution and consumption of 'knowledge'" even as the surrounding city was to be reconfigured to more efficiently reproduce the "workers" who were to perform this production, distribution, and, to a large extent, consumption of knowledge.

Kerr's vision, however, extended well beyond the university and its immediate neighborhood. He was just as keen to describe the new society that was coming to fruition at mid-century. In this new society, Kerr wrote in Industrialism and Industrial Man (Kerr et al. 1960), politics too would be made rational or, more accurately, managerial. Men and women "can be given some influence" in the new society, Kerr intoned.

Society has achieved consensus and it is perhaps less necessary for Big Brother to exercise political control. Nor in this Brave NewWorld need genetic and chemical means be employed to avoid revolt. There will not be any revolt anyway, except little bureaucratic revolts that can be handled piecemeal. (Kerr et al. 1960, 295).

Such pronouncements-which seem to accord rather well with the political pessimism of the later postmodern, post-structuralist left-at the time drew immediate fire from around the globe. Guy Debord (1994 [1967], 137-138), for example, attacked Kerr directly in his 1967 manifesto, The Society of the Spectacle, asserting that Kerr's vision was exactly what had to be fought against if people were ever to regain control over their own alienated lives and learn once again to live in the city.

Closer to home, Kerr's vision was enacted in part through the University of California's attempts, beginning in the early 1950s, to gain control of the South Campus area (centered around Telegraph Avenue), both for campus expansion and to better control the mix of residential and business functions. A 1952 Long-Range Plan proposed that the university expand into the South Campus area as part of a large city-wide redevelopment program that was aimed at addressing the "blighted" sections of the city. Students and the elderly who lived there were not expected to mount a particularly effective opposition to the purportedly benign plans of the university and the city. As the journalist Robert Scheer (1969, 43) later contended, the bureaucratic motives of the administration were

... based on assumptions about the purpose of the University and the role of its students. South Campus expansion was based on the presumed need to sanitize and control the University environment. The university community which the Development Plan envisioned was one of a total environment in which every need-classrooms, housing, recreation and parking-was programmed for ten years into the future. Students would literally be forced to dwell within an ivory tower of concrete and glass dormitories which-along with other official buildings, churches and a few spanking new store fronts properly up to code-would be the only structures permitted in the central South Campus area. All others would be pushed out by the University Regents exercising their power of eminent domain. This would, as the Development Plan (1956 revision) noted, provide "a well-rounded life for students...." If the Multiversity was to be a knowledge factory, South Campus would be its company town.

Just this vision of the university and city as a rational technical and efficient future, carefully managed by competent and well-trained bureaucrats working in the interest of society, became the focus of revolt and popular rebellion in Berkeley in the 1960s rebellion for which the Free Speech Movement is often presented as the opening act.

But the FSM was not simply a spontaneous, massive, inexplicable act of refusal (as many histories have it). Instead, the FSM which shook the Berkeley campus during the fall of 1964 was a climax of a growing-actually rejuvenated-and ever more militant movement against the dictates of a class- and race-based society that refused to grant blacks, workers, and students those rights that were supposedly the very foundation of its existence. By 1964, Berkeley already had a long history of student activism. The 1930s, for example, saw significant student organizing, often led by Communist Party members and their allies, in support of striking farmworkers, longshore workers, and other militant unionists around the state. So too were many students (and faculty) involved in broader "popular front" organizing. In the 1950s the loyalty oath controversies had seen significant student support for resistant and fired faculty. By 1957 a radical student party, SLATE, had formed. And Berkeley students, like their counterparts in many other northern universities, were involved with civil rights struggles, labor struggles, anti-McCarthy actions, and fledgling new-left organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Be that as it may, proximate causes were important. FSM was in part a clear revolt against the increasingly restrictive policies of a campus administration, directed by Clark Kerr as president of the whole university system, that viewed itself as a center of liberal (capitalist) intellectualism. The American public university campus-and the Berkeley campus in particular-had always been a tightly controlled space. In spite of the history of free speech struggles in the first two decades of the 20th century that forced a reconsideration of laws governing public space, the public universities of California continued, as late as 1964, to operate as if restrictions on the political activities of their students both on and off campus were not only their right but also their mandate. Somewhat unusually among large public universities, the University of California retained the belief that paternalistic in loco parentis was a viable and necessary ideology of social control over students. As Columbia University Professor Robert Paul Wolff (1966: 38) wrote in response to an angry article critical of FSM by former Berkeley Professor Lewis Feuer (1966): "In a morally sound society, the university can and should be a sanctuary of scholarship, a school for citizenship, and a validator of the dominant values of the political community." Through a series of rules and regulations designed to severely proscribe what could be said on campus-and where it could be said-this was exactly what the University of California was attempting to do. Among the many issues at stake in the FSM at Berkeley was the question of what was moral and who had the right to determine that morality. But, even so, the movement resolved itself, quite explicitly, into a question of the right to space. Free speech at Berkeley, as with free speech anywhere, was a spatial problem.

The Geography of Free Speech 1: Context

The Berkeley campus in the 1960s was growing rapidly. The traditional edge of the campus was Sather Gate on Telegraph Avenue (Figures 3.1 and 3.2). In 1960 and 1961 new campus buildings, housing the bookstore, student union, student government, restaurants and coffeehouses, were opened just outside Sather Gate. Telegraph Avenue was closed at Bancroft Way, and the former street was converted into a large plaza. Overlooking the plaza-indeed, dominating it-and also outside the Gate was the main building of the system-wide administration, Sproul Hall (Figure 3.3). Sproul Hall had been deliberately built outside the Berkeley campus in 1940 to symbolize the independence of the campus administration housed on the Berkeley campus proper from the university-wide administration now housed off-campus; the 1960 expansion of the campus, therefore, incorporated the system-wide administration back into the campus itself. The land upon which the plaza was built was ceded to the university by the city at the time of the street closure. Additionally, the university was engaged in an aggressive program of building student dorms off-campus several blocks south of Sather Gate, in the center of the "blighted" South Campus area (Heirich 1971; Scheer 1969).

All this detail is important because the city street in front of Sproul Hall had for a long time been a traditional off-campus free speech area.


Excerpted from The Right to the City by Don Mitchell Copyright © 2003 by The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Don Mitchell, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Geography at Syracuse University. After receiving his PhD in 1992 from Rutgers University, he taught at the University of Colorado before moving to Syracuse. He is the author, most recently, of The People's Property?: Power, Politics, and the Public, with Lynn Staeheli (2008), and They Saved the Crops: Landscape, Labor, and the Struggle for Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (2012). Dr. Mitchell is a recipient of MacArthur, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Fellowships. He was the founder of the People's Geography Project and serves on the advisory board of Syracuse Community Geography.

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