<body> Public Ad Campaign: Right To The City: Paper Tiger Presents The First In A Three Part Series
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Monday, November 30, 2009

Right To The City: Paper Tiger Presents The First In A Three Part Series

This is the first video in a 3 part series presented by Paper Tiger on The Right To The City campaign. As this video does not directly relate to outdoor advertising I feel it necessary to explain why I would post this to the PublicAdCampaign site. As I see it, the Right To The City campaign is about providing a voice for those people that the city overlooks. Although this video talks directly about gentrification, the Right To The City campaign can be applied to many other areas in which the public at large is taken advantage of or overlooked in favor of a few individuals.

A while back I went to a lecture at the CUNY grad center in New York at which David Harvey, an integral component in this video series, spoke about the Right To The City concept. I wrote down some of my thoughts and realized this might be a good opportunity to post them as a way of tying the idea of gentrification, in relation to the Right To The City agenda, to the proliferation of outdoor media, as well as justifying the posting of this video. Both gentrification and outdoor advertising take advantage of the city at large, although in different manners, and with more or less obvious effects. By invoking the Right To The City concept, each movement gains momentum from this term's inherent power to represent the will of the people. The following text was my reaction to the lecture and my desire to expand this Right To The City concept to all movements that represent the public's wishes.

I went to a discussion a while back at the CUNY grad center given by David Harvey, Neil Smith, and Don Mitchel. My oversimplified view of the talk was that it was about two things; whether there is, or ever was an urban commons? And what the term "right to the city" was going to mean in the future, and whom would it favor? I'm not an academic so excuse me if I misquote some things. I don't have the material in front of me to draw from, so I will be going from memory.

Mr. Harvey began the talk citing some Marx I believe, specifically a hypothetical conversation regarding the equal rights between an employer and an employee to determine their own version of the working day. To paraphrase, the employer asserts it is his right to work his employees as hard as he wishes, and to death if need be. The employee then responds, that he has the right to live a humane existence where he is treated with dignity and respect over his long life. Marx says that between these two forces equal right to exert there own will on what constitutes a working day, the one with the most force will decide the outcome. To me this idea seems applicable in all situations where "force" is the resolving factor in any conflict of interest, above justice and truth.

The talk then went on to discuss the existence, and or loss of the urban commons, places people have an inherent right to inhabit simply by being in a city; sidewalks, parks, schools, hospitals. It then moved on to the term "right to the city", which has often been used to justify the demands of marginalized populations whose access to urban commons is restricted. But who has the right to the city? What does "right to the city” actually mean? Is it the liberal term to describe the under represented demands of marginalized populations in major metropolitan environments, housing, education, healthcare, homelessness? Or is it something else? Neil Smith made an interesting point, the term "right to the city" could be assumed by any person or group of people living in a city, including the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, or even real estate development firms. They too in fact have a "right to the city", and therefore the term is misleading and could even be problematic for the liberal agenda that wants to politically invest the phrase with a sense of urgency for those whose needs are being overlooked.

Outdoor advertising isn’t one of the typical problems associated with the “right to the city” battle cry, but here at PublicAdCampaign we consider it to a public health issue of great importance. This got me thinking about NPA city outdoor, InWindow, and all the other outdoor advertising corporations that abuse public space by illegally presenting messages that are inherently not public. Messages we as a community have decided should by law, require proper permitting because of their ability to alter the very nature of the spaces they occupy. Both NPA and InWindow, as well as countless other outdoor advertising companies, have forsaken this process. These messages not only construct public space in their own image, turning our shared environment into a commercial space, but also turn our public walls into a commodity, preventing people from using those spaces for important public projects.

These outdoor advertising companies often call on the first amendment when the public protests their abuse of our urban common space. In many ways, they are invoking their own "right to the city" as a reason they should be allowed to operate in our environment as they see fit, even when the city does not give it's consent. These bullying tactics only seem feasible when you think of Marx's idea that if two parties are given the equal right to determine an outcome, how public space is used, the one with the most force will decide that outcome. Outdoor advertising companies often impose their will, or "right to the city" with a monetary force that employs the awesome power of huge legal teams. This is unacceptable, and as a result must change the very nature of who “the right to the city” concept can apply to so that “force” is taken out of the equation.

It can be assumed outdoor advertising is in direct conflict with many people's desire for how public space should be used, given that we have made laws to mediate this conflict. Knowing this, a large community of activists and artists are out on the streets of our city attempting to reclaim what outdoor advertising has taken both physically and psychologically. This is often done illegally, and is our own demand for our "right to the city" in the face of this much stronger force. And yet inevitably that stronger force continues to decide the fate of an environment we should be in control of. The resistance we are putting up and our demand to be a part of the control process in our public spaces seems to be falling on deaf ears. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that there is no accepted avenue for public disagreement with how the city is being used and who it is serving.

How then do we then define this term "right to the city" so that it represents the will of the people and not the elite, or these outdoor advertising corporations? How do we create a city in which the public can protest and be heard, or invoke this "right to the city" in a way in which the city assumes our demands are the priority? This city should serve the people first. No one should go to jail for loitering, be moved on for no reason by police when congregating in groups larger than 3, or for defacing an illegal advertisement in protest of the wholesale abuse our of shared common spaces. The public is the only one who can demand a "right to the city" because we are the city. Corporations, buildings, governments and institutions may come and go but it is the people who should always be heard first. The term “right to the city” should be a battle cry for those whose voice represents this city. That means the homeless, those without proper healthcare, those without proper education, and I shamelessly throw in at the end, those who demand that the city be curated by residents and not companies trying to pry open our minds and insert thoughts of an entirely un-public nature. When the term “right to the city” is used in this light, it immediately invokes the power of the public and not those who have no right to determine our city’s fate.

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