Assessing the Impact of Design and Urban Activism Events by Expanding the Notion of Citizenship

As the radical restructuring of the capitalist global order may not be the intention of DIY urbanism and design activism in the first place, a way of evaluating its effects might be to look into whether and how activists actually succeed in the production of alternative spaces in the city, whether projects re-enact the right to the city, and whose rights are reclaimed. Another point to evaluate is to what extentcivil actions arc absorbed or rejected by civic society and planning institutions. Civil actions are by definition not monitored by state authorities or municipalities. Whereas “civic space is a place that is established or has taken root in policies, education programmes, (etc.), [it] is a space that remains fluid, a place where positions still have to be taken up or created.”14 This openness of civil action is closely related to the notion of the event, in the sense that a series of events potentially opens the city to new practices where civil actions can be adapted to local urban problems, and can also find a form in civic and institutional spaces such as cultural institutions or municipal initiatives. The right to the city has many manifestations, including the ability for urban citizens in the periphery to reclaim the city. The notion of citizenship as formulated by Holston and Appadurai in 199315 is useful here, as they relate citizenship not only to being a legal citizen within the nation state but to upholding a plethora of rights—social, economic, political, and cultural. This broad definition of citizenship is applied in the following analysis, in which the term “spatial citizenship” covers a broader ecology of practices taking place in Sao Paulo.

Contextualizing Design and Urban Activism Events in Sao Paulo

The Arab Spring (2010-13), Indignados in Spain (2011), and the Occupy movement— beginning with Occupy Wall Street (2011) and culminating in Istanbul with Occupy Gezi (2013)—can be seen as a global framework for the D1Y urbanism and urban protests that took place in Sao Paulo in 2012-13. As noted by Earle, with reference to Foweraker and Landman, “social movements are linked to the acquisition of citizenship since they can act as ‘both schools for understanding rights and vehicles for disseminating ideas and perceptions of rights.’”16

The Sao Paulo protests, or Jornadas de Junho—the June Journeys—followed the Gezi Park protests of May 2013. The choice of the word jornadas, meaning “journeys,” relates to the 2013 protests in Brazil as a series of events that took place in time and space, spreading across the country in multiple acts. Although the same issues as those in Occupy Gezi were not at stake, these events were likewise reactions to local governments and their misuse of public space. In particular, the increase of the Paulistano bus fares ignited the protests, but the

protests also provided an outlet for frustration with corruption in public life and the difficulty of bringing about change through the formal democratic process. Many of these protesters were young and middle class, and had never been on the streets before.17

Like Occupy Gezi, Jornadas de Junho was a particular event that made public opinion manifest by bringing thousands of people to the streets. However, also like Occupy Gezi, the outburst of protests must be seen as part of larger urban ecologies in which public opinion, the roles of both professionals and activists, and numerous practices are gradually transformed. For instance, since the protests in June 2013, Sao Paulo has experienced an explosion in activist land occupation and commoning of urban spaces and buildings.1

As this chapter argues, the protests can be seen as outcomes of a growing global awareness and of the manifold ways to enact the right to the city. Understanding this requires looking back to 2012, a year before the Jornadas de Junho event, to

Events and Ecologies of Urban Activism IDS analyze a series of design and urban activism events in Sao Paulo that—while sharing concerns with the global protest culture sketched above—were articulated not as protests but as affirmative design efforts stemming from a growing awareness of the city’s spatial inequality and lack of public spaces. Whereas social urban movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Gezi helped to realize a global protest against neoliberal government claiming the right to the city, the design and urban activism events of 2012 and onwards illustrate how governing geometries of power are contested and gradually changed over time. This occurs not by protesting in singular events, but by a gradual change effected through a reflective understanding of what design and urban activism can do and its way of operating. Whereas neoliberal politics globally are an important framework for understanding the events of 2012, the rise of right-wing populism and the resulting resentment from the left in many cities worldwide (and particularly in Brazil) arguably are responsible for some of the conditioning factors that allow us to understand the 2013 events. This might also explain why notions such as the pluriverse and decolonizing design have become increasingly more highlighted, especially in the context of Latin America.

The empirical material reflected in this chapter largely consists of informal interviews with event organizers, activists, designers, and architects, yet these interviews are supported by participant observation, as I took part in public meetings, debates, and street events. Hence, the analysis not only draws on the discursive semantics of the informants’ intentions with the design and urban tactics, but is based on a spatial and material analysis in which sites, the urban context, and the people present in the acts contribute useful knowledge. Combining interviews and in situ participant observation is thus a way of comparing and triangulating situated and partial knowledge about urban environments with the intentions of designers, urbanists, and activists.

 
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