privilege / solidarities / urban


(An out-take from the symposium talk – from which you can experience more thinking here and also here)

In negotiating our claim on space with those of others as a collective claim, we might do some definitional work. For example: how does a space become marked as ‘vacant’, ‘empty’, ‘derelict’, ‘trashed’? What do these terms mean? Do they mean the same thing to all city dwellers?

Does everyone see the same thing in the image below?

View of a building's interior, its walls covered in graffiti.

What is do-it-yourself, community-driven or grassroots urbanism or urban renewal? Put another and more provocative way, how is the scene below not likely to be marked as d-i-y urbanism, and is instead more likely to be the subject of public embarrassment, anxiety and/or disgust?

Mattresses and blankets set up on a platform.

Tents set up on grassland with trees in the foreground.

How about this one (directly above)? It’s an image of one of the campsites recently set up in the Adelaide parklands by Warlpiri people from Yuendemu. How is it not marked as community-driven or grassroots urbanism – instead its members are compelled to disband and ‘move on’?

In putting these questions my intention is not to shut down conversation about re-shaping urban life. Rather, these are questions which both map, and do not allow us to forget, the inequality inherent to urban environments and the role of privilege and ideology in designating practices and objects. Such questioning opens onto the definitional work that, I am suggesting, might take place in practices of entering and repurposing apparently vacant, derelict, abandoned, temporary or empty space, and which may be guided by further questions, such as:

– are there existing uses of this space?

– who else might have a claim on the shelter and sociality offered by this space?

– what is our position on those claims?

– what does it mean to make space for culture, say, in the City of Sydney, where the February street count numbered 365 people sleeping rough, as they say, and 477 in homeless hostels? in a state where around forty thousand people are on the waiting list for public housing, having been designated in a sufficient state of financial and physical distress?

This is of course the kind of thinking we see in many practices of art and community, demonstrated at many instances in the symposium proper. Keeping these questions in mind may generate more opportunities for more coalition-building and collective definition-making around the possibilities of space. I think there’s something of this in a piece by North American artist Martha Rosler, from 2010, where she says:

It is not the market alone, after all, with its hordes of hucksters and advisers, and bitter critics, that determines meaning and resonance: there is also the community of artists and the potential counterpublics they implicate….


5 thoughts on “Vacancies

  1. Pingback: Capital letters « Flat 7

  2. yeah, i think that there’s something about ‘us’ thinking this is strange. I mean, public space seems to now have a sense of ‘it’s not mine’.
    What do you think?
    I read a nice article last night about leaving marks in the city. It’s something that has always fascinated me – that it should be commonplace, but we think it’s so special because we feel so alienated by the space of the city.
    Public space is vacancy?
    thanks for your link

  3. Pleasure. Thanks for your thoughts! ‘Public space as vacancy’ is striking, I’m going consider that some more….

    My thinking (in the researchy project related to this post) is that there is a difference between feeling alienated in public space and being actively excised from it, though those experiences probably have similar ‘origins’. This post is related, too.

    • I came here looking for “your abstract for a paper I’m writing is here” – which it isn’t – and about which you say: ‘I am wondering what you would think of my research on nuns and/as single women in contemporary western culture!’
      I would be veryinterested in what you came up with!

      looks like you have moved on…..

      I just skimmed your London/Sydney/Homelessness relfections

      this irritates me big time- having been there done that:

      Do people choose to become homeless? – The City of Sydney (AU)

      “Some people ‘romanticise’ homelessness. This fails to acknowledge the stress and difficulties inherent in becoming and remaining homeless.”

      it would be great to hear form you – at my email?

  4. Pingback: Camping and connecting « Flat 7

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