The word City Planning is usually heard and seen as trustworthy. Depending on how much you trust your officials, or how much you see urban spaces as belonging to the “higher ups,” perhaps you will easily accept any new Urban Plan posted on the bulletin. Anyone involved with planning must love this!
However, what if such was not the case? People and citizens have the potential to become proactive in their agenda, while simultaneously becoming more distrusting of their officials. We currently live in an age where climate change will soon render vast amount of land no longer usable by humans (or at least destroy parts of it). A major component of the digitally empowered population of the world will soon be seeing “their” land radically altered. Most likely their governments would lack the money to rebuild. Most likely their cities will be rebuilt by “forgeiners:” fundings, designs, and plannings from more prosperous countries. Prosperous countries who may have been one of the main contributors to climate change; and as a result: their unfortunate condition. As we pour foreign aid (read: tax money) into international climate adaptation and resiliency efforts, can we be sure the locals will accept them peacefully and gratefully? Can we be sure our Plans for their cities be accepted without resentment?
It is common for urban planners encounter resistance. In our advanced societies such phenomenons often happen peacefully through civil societies. Whether if it was for a petty reason like NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard mentality/hating any new changes) or admirable causes like preventing gentrification, the clashes often play out in a civil manner. Grassroot and authoritarian planning often become a pluralist process: all voices would contribute to the plan of the urban space. However, in some cases grassroot resistance can be… wild. Radicalized. NIMBYism can take on the forms of protests, riots, violence. What we need now is an example. And where better to look at violent citizen protests than Berkeley, California?
I take you to People’s Park, city of Berkeley, CA. A place of peace, love, and violence.
In 1968, the plot of land that would become the People’s Park was bought for future projects. However, as soon as it was bulldozed and cleared there was no more money. As a result, for the next 14 months the muddy plot would continue to exist.
Usually, a muddy piece of empty private land in the middle of a city would be left alone. But this was Berkeley in the 1960s.
In April of 1969 local citizens would mobilize themselves to “reform” the plot into something more pleasing. Spontaneously people came together to dig, to shovel, and to plant. Soon the unsightly muddy plot had become a Park. Hippies gathered to celebrate. Free food was distributed. The Park was the proud child of a gathering of cheerful citizens who have rescued it from the mud.
Such an invasion of private/public land was not well received by the US government of 1960s. Already the atmosphere was heavily burdened by the constant Vietnam war protests. With the animosity between people and the government in the air, those in power decided to put the foot down.
Highway patrols, police forces, National Guardsmen were mobilized and deployed to seize back the land. In response, thousands of citizens gathered to take back the Park.
On a day called “Bloody Thursday,” the police would fire buckshots into the crowd. One protestor would lose his life; another would be blinded; hundreds were wounded.
A clear, almost transparent, hero/villain relationship had been formed. Citizens would see those authoritarian planners, with their mobilized “peacekeeping” force, as dictators. Government officials would view the unruly grassroot “planners,” who intended to keep the private land as their Park, as mobs. Who shall we choose to be in the moral high ground? With everyone living a limited existence, perhaps the “real” and correct judgement will never be known. Nevertheless, the People’s Park still provides us a meaningful precedent. It is an example of what could happen should the use of a plot of urban land be contested by both those in power, and those who live near it.