Space And Revolution: Urban Gentrification On Occupy Philly’s Dilworth Plaza

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Eric Hobsbawn in “Cities and Insurrections” famously marks the impacts of city structures on the formation and efficacy of revolutionary mobilization. For him, certain structures render power centers vulnerable by bringing different classes together in such ways that would allow lower class mobilization effective against ruling classes. For that exact reason, threatened elites constantly force measures to transform the city spaces in ways that would minimize chances of insurrection and facilitate their suppression. Post-1848 Paris boulevards allowing artilleries to function within the city are his archetypical examples. Borrowing Hobsbawns insights, this paper inquires into the contemporary ways in which urban transformations impede revolutionary mobilization. Today, the most visible and ubiquitous examples of these are constructions happening on the city squares that have formerly been hubs for movements. Those constructions has taken the form of symbolic destruction of monuments and grass at the squares, as in the case of Bahrain’s white monument in Pearl roundabout, as well as that of gentrification projects as in Istanbul/Turkey’s Taksim Square and Philadelphia/USA’ occupy site Dilworth Plaza. Common to those sites are technical excuses to evictions of protesters and effective prevention to new gatherings.

For this paper, I’d like to propose a focus on our own Dilworth Plaza in center city Philadelphia, which hosted Occupy Philly in 2011. It was evicted on November 30th given the reasons to start constructing an ice skating ring together with a park, in mayor Michael Nutter’s words, would “rival the parks of Paris, London and Rome.” (Spikol, 2012). Since then plaza is closed to public access and despite the initial plans to finalize construction in in late Spring 2014, it is announced to take longer due to “snags in construction” (Dehuff, 2014). I’d like to explore three questions regarding Dilworth’s current transformation. First one is a rather journalistic one. The construction was commissioned in 2010 and hence plans were already made before the occupy movement’s reclaim of the space, which was one of the arguments during the eviction period. The question is whether or not there have been changes in the original plan after the incident of Occupy Philly? For instance, in the original plan, the north side of the plaza has an Hyde Park style free speech corner. It is now questioned if this is still going to be the case, and if it will be, will it limit the freedom of speech in other parts of the park (Denvir, 2014). The second question is a social scientific one that inquires the extent to which this new project will partake in the overall gentrification process, with a particular emphasis on how such gentrification effects social movements on the ground. As the third question, I’d like to propose an unusual one for a paper, but I think an appropriate one for a proposal: Which philosopher(s) provide(s) the best insights to shed light on the question of this relationship between space and revolution, particularly of the urban transformation and social movements? I’d like to choose among writers like Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, Michael Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and Eduardo Mendieta, but I’d also appreciate any suggestions on that front. Eventually, I plan to adopt one or two writers’ perspective in the limits of this paper.

I added two visuals to give everyone a better image on how Dilworth Plaza during Occupy was and what the new construction is planned to bring about.

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References and Tentative Literature:

 

Dehuff, Jenny. “Snags in Construction Postpone Dilworth Plaza Opening.” Philly.com. Accessed April 8. http://articles.philly.com/2013-12-04/news/44712676_1_dilworth-plaza-market-frankford-septa.

 

Denvir, Daniel. 2014. “Will Protests Be Restricted When Dilworth Plaza Reopens?” 2014. Accessed April 8. http://citypaper.net/article.php?18304.

 

Fogle, Nikolaus. 2011. The Spatial Logic of Social Struggle : A Bourdieuian Topology /. Lexington Books.

 

Foucault, Michel. 2007. Security, Territory, Population : Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78 /. Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984. Lectures at the Collège de France. Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Graham, Stephen. 2010. Cities under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. London; New York: Verso.

 

Harvey, David. 2006. Spaces of Global Capitalism. Verso.

———. 2013. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution.

 

Hobsbawm, E. J. 2001. “Cities and Insurrection.” In Revolutionaries, 220–33. New York: New Press.

 

Lefebvre, Henri. 1996. Writing on Cities. Blackwell:

 

Low, Setha M. 2006. The Politics of Public Space.. New York: Routledge.

Mitchell, Don. 2003. The Right to the City : Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. Guilford Press.

 

Smith, Neil. 1996. The New Urban Frontier : Gentrification and the Revanchist City /. Routledge.

 

Spikol, Liz. 2014. “Dilworth Plaza: The Jardin de Luxembourg of the East Coast.” Curbed Philly. Accessed April 8. http://philly.curbed.com/archives/2012/02/07/dilworth-plaza-the-jardin-de-luxembourg-of-the-east-coast.php.

 

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4 Responses to Space And Revolution: Urban Gentrification On Occupy Philly’s Dilworth Plaza

  1. michaelwardii says:

    Cetin,
    James C. Scott might be helpful: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

  2. ecetin says:

    Thanks a lot Mick!

  3. grockhil says:

    This is a very relevant project. Here are a few thoughts:
    i) Benjamin’s Arcades Project is crucial for the consideration of space and politics, particularly the section on Haussmann. Given the theoretical framing of your project, and the fact that the B. Franklin Parkway leads to Dilworth Plaza and is part of the Haussmannian restructuring of Philadelphia, I would consider engaging more directly with it.
    ii) In parallel to the work of Benjamin, Hobsbawm, Harvey and others, it might be worth considering whether or not there is a consumerist transformation of public space in which purportedly free public urban areas are being increasingly converted into privatized bastions of consumerism, thereby favoring reactive capitalist subjects rather than active citizens.
    iii) I would encourage you to mobilize various theoretical reference points–Lefebvre could potentially be very important, especially The Production of Space–in order to form your own working hypotheses regarding the role of urban planning in favoring a longterm “de-occupying” of public space.
    iv) Finally, it might be worth thinking about the temporality of urban space and the ways in which it manifests longterm conter-revolutionary forces.

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