Project for Public Spaces, The University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology

United States of America, Australia

Natalia Radywyl is a Fellow at Project for Public Spaces (NYC), Research Associate at the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, University of Melbourne, and Adjunct Fellow at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University. As an advocate for the commons, her current research and public space intervention projects bridge civic engagement, ethnography, urbanism and digital media. Natalia has also coordinated tertiary courses in new media and urban culture, recently co-edited Nanotechnology and Global Sustainability (2011), and regularly donates pro bono time to not-for-profits working in community-oriented urban design. See http://www.astudioforallthings.com

Mobilizing the Commons: Occupying NYC

This paper examines how new and powerful forms of civic mobilization have recently been made possible through the activation of public space as an ‘urban commons.’ As shown by the tens of thousands who took to the streets to demonstrate against systemic marginalization across the globe in 2011, public space continues to be valued as a conduit and crucible for social change. In particular, the speed at which Occupy Wall Street’s actions gained a contagious momentum, giving rise to the global Occupy movement, demonstrates how rapidly contemporary radical change can be transmitted and scaled. The Occupy ‘meme’, aided and engineered through social media, grew the movement spatially, ideologically and politically with affinity groups multiplying, diversifying and self-organizing in concurrent, decentralized waves. Drawing upon my own observations of and work with a number of Occupy affinity groups in New York City, I map the maturation of the Occupy movement according to how online and urban experience have become increasingly integrated as sophisticated tools for community self-organisation. Through the presentation of images, video footage and online presence, I detail a number of case studies, including the occupation of Zucotti Park as a rapidly mobilized commons; Occupy Town Square, which works with local communities to coordinate ‘pop-up’ town squares in public parks; The Illuminator, a guerilla ‘tactical media tool’ – a cargo van and mobile library equipped with video and audio projection which mobilizes social justice campaigns through outreach, ‘pop up’ urban interventions, and street projection; and Occupy’s very recent work following Hurricane Sandy, and its sudden legitimation as a leading relief service. I consider the impact of Occupy as having established broader systemic integration as a sophisticated self-organizing community of practice defined by agile, decentralized networks integrating online media with urban experience and grassroots political advocacy.