#3. Occupy and the Provision of Public Space: The City’s Responibiities


The occupation of key public spaces by Occupy Wall Street, as a means of calling attention to more basic problems, raises questions of the role of public spaces that need to be urgently dealt with. The basic questions about the organization of society, democracy, inequality, social justice, public priorities are deep-going and require long-term answers. They should not be pre-empted by the immediate needs for space, not should any space be fetishized. But spatial issues need to be dealt with immediately and urgently.

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The need for, and the function of, public space, raised by the Zuccotti Park affair, is an issue that should be confronted directly as an issue in democratic governance. While other city departments are also necessarily involved, the focus here is on the appropriate concerns of the City Planning Commission and its staff, as one entry point in its consideration.

It is axiomatic, we believe, that the concern of city planning is not only promotion of the efficient use of the city’s built environment and the health and safety of its users, but also the extent to which that environment, and generally planning for and allocation land uses in the city, furthers the interests of democracy and participation in the affairs of the community.

The Zuccotti Park affair, and similar forcible evictions of protestors from public spaces in cities across the country, reveals a deficit in the provision and management of public space. The courts may ultimately rule that the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right peaceably to assemble and petition for the redress of grievances implies a constitutional duty on states and their cities to make such assembly possible through the provision of public space for its exercise. Until there is a change in the composition of the U.S. Supreme ‘court, however, it is left for other branches of government to accept that responsibility as a matter of good democratic policy. The following discussion suggests the possibilities in New York City.

The occupiers of Zuccotti Park clearly had a message they wished to convey to the wider public, one that concerned issues of governance, social justice, public policy, the conduct of the affairs of the city. It was perhaps a controversial message, one affecting a wide range of subjects. There is widespread interest in at what the occupiers have to say, both pro and con. They have found Zuccotti Park a feasible location in which not only to express their opinions but to discuss them, look at alternate formulations, educate themselves on the issues, and in the process develop a model of discussion and transparent decision-making that is itself of significant potential value to the development of urban democracy. They claim the right to occupy a particular space not simply on First Amendment grounds – they do not wish simply to yell and scream for its own sake, but to participate in the democratic governance of the society in which they live. They are in a notable modern tradition of the use of central spaces for democratic action, going from Plaza de Mayo to Tahrir Square, including in the U.S. spaces such as the mall in Washington D.C. An even older tradition goes back to the Athenian agora and the medieval cathedral square (as St. James in London today). Their availability for political use is generally taken for granted, if sometimes limited by undemocratic regimes or used for repressive purposes, as with Nazi plazas and Soviet squares.

In a city as dense, and with the kind of market-dictated property values it reflects, there is a real need to face the lack of such spaces directly and to plan for their use as part of the essential city planning process and governmental regulation of land uses. The Zuccotti Park affair highlights the urgency of the need to act.

We believe that the city government should, in confronting uses such as those of Occupy Wall Street, welcome their initiative for public involvement and consider carefully how the city’s planning process might promote the occupiers’ ability to participate, actively and peaceably, in the city’s public life

How might this be done?

An open and democratically-motivated city leadership might provide communications facilities, radio and TV access, sponsor public fora, have transparent discussions on the issues being raised in governing circles, call for open and imaginative and constructive supportive conduct by city officials in all matters related to the occupiers abilities to make their voices heard, encouraging a public debate around their views. But even short of such actions, making space available for such activities is a primary need that should be addressed by the City, a need that requires it to examine the possibilities for the use of space within the city to encourage democratic activities. The demands of the First Amendment set a minimum threshold for the exercise of the right to free speech, but what is needed is not the ability to speak freely out in the desert, inaccessible to most and heard by few. Rather, what is needed are publicly available spaces that can fulfill the functions of the traditional agora, places where free men and women can meet, debate, speak to and listen to each other, learn from each other, confront issues of public concern and facilitate their resolution.

Zuccotti Park was not ideal for the purposes of speech and assembly, but by almost heroic effort it was made into one in which such uses thrived. The City could have supported them: it could have done things as simple as provide sanitary facilities, as it has in other parks; it could have provided sound systems that would both facilitate wide participation and minimize disturbance to neighbors; it could have consulted on health and safety measures, provided fire extinguishers, safe connections to power lines, even efficient sources of heat and protection from the elements. Facilities for the provision of food and water could have been provided, as they are in other parks. It could have arranged with the occupiers that they could speak and meet in safety and security. The availability of spaces such as the atrium at 60 Wall Street might be a model. But the City did nothing along these lines at Zuccotti Park; it did not even explore their possibility.

But it is not too late to recognize the problem and plan for its immediate amelioration and long term solution. We could learn from Zuccotti Park what is needed and plan how to provide it. The city has developed other plans which include provision of public spaces, and has had them since the city was founded. But those plans need to clarify further what those publicly available spaces are for what, purposes they should serve, where they should be located, how they should be designed and equipped. We have plans for the spaces and the facilities that have been shown to be needed for other purposes. We have waterfront plans of which we are proud, transportation plans, environmental plans, social service plans, recreational plans; we need public spaces as part of a democracy or public participation plan, one which would look at the spaces and the facilities needed to make a healthy democracy thrive. We are able to plan and make space available for ticker tape parades, community gardens, street fairs, farmers’ markets, political rallies; we provide for commercial and recreational use of parks; we even arrange for seating for large numbers in the middle of times Square in the heart of the city’s busiest intersection at the peak of rush hour. We build and/or subsidize convention centers and sports arenas for large crowds. We plan special restrictions and special opportunities for various holidays. We provide office space and meeting space in numerous locations for the transaction of city business, from Community Board meetings to public hearings to electoral events, and we rent space in municipal properties and on public sidewalks to all kinds of activities, public and private, and at all hours of the day and night.

Further, the City through zoning regulations, building codes, tax and subsidy policies, anti-discrimination laws, environmental controls, infrastructure provision, transportation policies, and the exercise of other normal governmental functions, has substantial control not only over publicly-owned space but also over privately-owned space. Many of these deal explicitly both with restricted and with favored uses, whether negatively as with nuisances or positively as with theaters or community facilities or spatial bonuses for open spaces and public facilities. Spaces for public uses may be publicly owned, or privately owned and subject to public influence and regulation; it is the use, not the bare ownership, which is the issue. A Public Spaces Plan concerned with the spatial requirements for the exercise of democratic functions should deal with both. .

For many of the city’s spaces there are already appropriate time, place, and manner regulations governing their use, and such regulations, if reasonable, may be applicable for spaces appropriate for democratic assembly and speech, keeping in mind the constitutional importance of the particular uses involved and their adoption through open procedures consistent with democratic decision-making. The issues involved in dealing with Zuccotti Park are all within the City’s power to manage, and relatively easily. In Newark, for instance, “the city’s police chief… said she would waive the permit ordinarily required to assembling in Military Park, telling protesters that her officers’ task was ‘to make sure you’re safe.… members of the city’s Municipal Council said they supported lifting the 9 p.m. curfew that typically governs the plaza.”

Should we not plan ahead to do the same kind of planning as we do for other spaces in the City to provide space for the functioning of the democracy to which we are constitutionally committed? Should not the imagination, the technical skills, the design experience, the collective experience of the diverse body of our citizenry and our guests, the knowledge of our educational institutions, the competence of our business community, the creativity of our artists, be now harnessed in that effort?

In implementing such a Public Spaces Plan, consideration must be given also to criteria for the management of such spaces. Tw o different groups or individuals cannot conduct two different activities in the same space at the same time, certainly not without careful prior understanding as to their rules of behavior. Developing or applying such rules is a common everyday task for those in charge of many spaces, both public and private; the examples above suggest the many situations in which such rules are already established and enforced as to public spaces, streets, parks, with relatively wide public agreement.

The Zuccotti Park experience suggests two points that require special notice. One is that in determining priorities among possibly conflicting claims on the use of a particular space, a particular priority should be given to uses which increase the ability of the populace to participate actively and with information in the democratic governance of the city. Detailed research would be useful to see how criteria are now framed in various cities for the regulation of various types of spaces. Transparency and ample opportunities to be heard should be a sine quo non for the adoption of such rules.

The Zuccotti Park case also shows the potentials of open discussion among users and affected non-users of public space to deal with arrangements for use. The agreements between the occupiers and Community Board 1 for the regulation of noise at the Park show that even in difficult circumstances discussion can achieve satisfactory results. The experience at Zuccotti also shows that the absence of discussion can have very undesirable results, as the clearance of the Park at by the City in the dead of night, without notice and or oversight, with substantial property damage and infliction of unnecessary personal hardship, demonstrates. Occupiers waive no rights by entering into negotiations over time, place, and manner regulations on their use of a particular space at a particular time in a particular manner. The rights of free speech can be adequately protected in such circumstances; the cases are legion. The City, on its side, should be sympathetic to the prospective users’ needs, and not meet them with expressed hostility. Agreement with their goals is not a requirement, but civility and common sense are.

There should be an end to the handling of the democratic outpouring we have seen at Zuccotti Park by forcible evictions and quasi-military police actions, and instead a forward-looking and responsible planning and implementation process for the flowering of a vital and constructive democracy in the City.

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Why, within city government in New York City, should the Planning Commission take a leading role here?

Apart from its purpose to plan broadly, comprehensively and long-term for the welfare of the city’s people, there is a realistic political argument for it to take a leading role in the matter. All political leaders have a vested interested in staying in power; it goes with the territory. The city’s current mayor has certainly demonstrated such an interest in the past. He has no incentive to tolerate protest, or certainly to encourage it, unless it may lead to a loss of voter confidence such as to threaten his continuation in office. The City Planning Commission, by contrast, is specifically created as a non-partisan commission, has very limited powers; its members are not dependent on their position on it for their livelihood or status. Those concerned about the uses of adequate space in the city for purposes that include political protest can attempt to persuade a sitting mayor that a negative attitude incurs a political cost to him or her. But directing their attention of the somewhat less partisan political Planning Commission may facilitate the beginning of constructive discussion.

[This piece has dealt with government’s responsibility only at the city level. But states can play a significant role here also. Simply requiring, as part of mandated municipal plans, provision for public spaces and their democratic use, is an example; examining the contribution state parks or other state-controlled spaces can make is another. The Federal government can also play a role, through its control of substantial space in urban centers, much of it open as plazas or otherwise. Even the UN could play a role, by laying out the meaning of the right of assembly as a human right. ]

#6. For Occupy, What Does 99% Mean (with slogans)


Occupy Wall Street’s Common Message to its Diverse Potential Supporters

In the debate about the meaning, potential, and future direction of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the issue of just who the 99% and the 1% are, and what difference it makes, is a thorny one. The occupiers themselves, as a rough estimate, comprise less than .1% of the population. What is the line of division the occupy movement is trying to get across? How can it be done?

The answer connects with the questions of demands vs. goals, the slogans the movement uses. Some sound-bite size slogans can be imagined to suggest how a real debate might be provoked and the message of the occupations spread convincingly among the large number of their actual or potential supporters.

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In the debate about the meaning, potential, and future direction of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the issue of just who the 99% and the 1% are, and what difference it makes, is a thorny one. The occupiers themselves, as a rough estimate, comprise less than .1% of the population. What is the line of division the occupy movement is trying to get across? How can it be done?

The answer connects with the questions of demands vs. goals, the slogans the movement uses. Some sound-bite size slogans can be imagined to suggest how a real debate might be provoked and the message of the occupations spread convincingly among the large number of their actual or potential supporters.

* * * * * *

Formulating the specifics of separate demands is not what the Occupy Walls Street movement is about. Its goal is rather dealing with the inequality between the 99% and the 1%, the concentration of power in the banks on economic issues, the lack of real democracy in political decision-making, the organization of society around the accumulation of wealth, consumerism, violence, conformity. Their goal is a different world, in which the specific demands of the 99% would be realized, together. The slogans: OCCUPY WALL STREET and OCCUPY TOGETHER go hand in hand. The Occupy Wall Street movement supports a wide variety of demands, as all of the placards and signs and posters show. But the Occupy Wall Street demand itself  incorporates those demands, but its own demand is broader, more general. It calls for a society organized around the needs, desires, dreams, of the 99%, not the 1%.

Yet there is a necessary link between the more specific demands and the general demand, and it goes from the aggregation of individual demands into a realization of their general unity and larger meaning. Judging from history, if a real revolution were possible today, it would include all the specific demands of the Occupy Wall Street signs as part of its general demand for comprehensive change. The patriots who dumped tea in Boston harbor in the American Revolution were not just after repeal of the tax on tea; they wanted independence and democracy. In the French Revolution the participants marched on the Bastille wanted not just the opening of that hated prison, and not even just, bread for the hungry, but Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. In the English Revolution the Puritans and the Levelers wanted not just freedom of religion and from feudal tithing, but an end to the monarchy and feudal constraints over-all.

But how can this linkage between the specific demands and the general goal be forged today, in practice as well as in rhetoric? The question needs to be addressed, not only to the occupiers, but to those who press for the specifics, and their organizations – the no-occupiers who are sympathetic to the occupations and constitute at least 58% or so of the total population in the United States. It seems to me that the essence of the Occupy Wall Street movement is its understanding that issues of poverty, of peace, of education, of health, of environmental change, of exploitation in the work place, dissatisfaction in the community, discrimination on ethnic and gender lines, cultural discontent, all in the end have to do with the division  of society between the top and the bottom, symbolized by the relations between the1% and the 99%, calling attention to the structural features of a system that benefits the one at the expense of the other.  It is this understanding that must be brought to inform all the specific demands that it encompasses.


The process of linking is already beginning, both from the side of the occupiers and their goals and from the side of the non-occupiers and their specific demands.

The occupations are already being used to inform, to share, to discuss, to criticize. There are Open Forums on a wide range of issues, little libraries in tents, innumerable one-on-one debates, invited speakers. And marches on banks, marches on neglected schools, marches on city halls, marches on centers of foreclosed homes, marches on uncomprehending and hostile media.

And there is support from many specific groups outside the occupations: unionized workers, longshoreman, service workers, teachers, retail workers, community-labor centers, neighborhood groups and members of the right to the city alliance, of National People’s Action, lawyers, nurses, neighborhood residents, students, academics, artists.

As the link is made from both directions, from occupiers to non-occupier sympathizers and vice versa. The 1%/99% divide can emerge sharply as what brings the two together within the 99%. It can be made explicit in many ways. For instance (and others can certainly improve on these examples, and these are points to be made, provocations for discussion, rather than bumper-stickers or slogans on signs):

In education:














In health care:







In housing:








On economic issues:








And so on.

It is important to read the 99% in all its complexity. The line between the two is not a simple quantitative one, and is not the same in every dimension of life. 58% of the population (U.S. context) may support the occupations. 86% may feel the country is on the wrong path. Obama captured 52% of the popular vote in 2008; the Republicans captured almost exactly the same percentage two year later. 66% of the population may consider themselves in the middle class; very few like to admit that they’re poor, but that undoubtedly includes many of the over 42 million who are living below the poverty level, and many who are managers, technicians, factory workers, service workers. About 30% of whites, 20% of blacks, have a college education or more; surely some are in the upper class, others support the occupations. And of course none of these numbers can capture the extent of the deep discontent, insecurity, worry, unhappiness,, that runs through all sections of society, including even some of the 1%.

The important point about the occupiers, though, is not how many they are, but that they are calling attention to a basic division, no matter how calibrated: between the haves and the have nots, the included and the excluded, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the subordinate, the plebes and the gentry, the rulers and the ruled. In an earlier post, I suggested a set of divisions along political/ideological lines. It is not neat, but it suggests the task ahead; the actual occupiers may total 200,000 or more, but in any case less than .1% of the population.  So producing change will not be up to them alone; they may be a spark that sets off a greater movement, but ultimately it is the understanding of the existence of a dividing line within the society, in which a small minority is benefiting handsomely at the expense of a large majority of the other, that is important.

The danger of cooptation remains. Joseph Stiglitz, a respected and progressive economist, said recently:

“You are right to be indignant.  The fact is that the system is not working right.  It is not right that we have so many people without jobs when we have so many needs that we have to fulfill.  It’s not right that we are throwing people out of their houses when we have so many homeless people.  Our financial markets have an important role to play.  They’re supposed to allocate capital, manage risks.  We are bearing the costs of their misdeeds.  There’s a system where we’ve socialized losses and privatized gains.  That’s not capitalism; that’s not a market economy.  That’s a distorted economy, and if we continue with that, we won’t succeed in growing, and we won’t succeed in creating a just society.”[1]

But unfortunately the point is exactly that it is a market economy, and it is capitalism.  The 99%/1% split isn’t because the market isn’t working; it’s the way, under capitalism, that it does work. That needs to be stated clearly and boldly. The question is, who is the “we” in that quote. It’s surely not most of us, and the 1% and the 99%, symbolically, play very different and indeed conflicting roles

The leadership of the fight for the demands and the goal of Occupy Wall Street is thus not simply, or even primarily, with the occupiers; it must be picked up by the much larger number and older organizations of the non-occupiers who are in sympathy with them.  The  occupiers are not the leaders of the movement, there to run it, control it, establish themselves as its forefront. They are the spark that is igniting it, not the old-fashioned vanguard called on to lead it. The question is not will the occupations grow, but will the message of the occupations grow. More important even than what will the occupiers do next is the question of what will the non-occupiers do next.

#8. Occupy Wall Street – Character, Strategies, the Future


Will the Occupy Wall Street movement continue to grow? I think that is the wrong question. It cannot “grow” in the sense of enlarging the area it occupies, staying longer and longer and refusing to leave. There is simply no space available where it is now in New York, the weather in winter will make it simply a test of endurance, it is more than can be asked. But there are alternative forms by which it can show its strength: marches, timed occupations, rallies, continued effective solidarity and networking. And refinement of claims, clarification of interpretations, pin-pointing of objectives and targets of non-violent action and exposure.  The attached argues:

Five alternative futures confront the movement:

  • Dissolve
  • Be co-opted
  • Focus on specific immediate reforms
  • Go for non-reformist reforms
  • Push for revolution.

The strengths and weaknesses of each are analyzed, and they are not mutually exclusive. But the “non-reformist reforms” seems the most productive.

In any event, its future will hinge on the extent to which it maintains its three defining characteristics:

The common thread in the analysis of the underlying nature of the problems with which it is concerned, symbolized by the 1%/99% formulation;

  • The bringing together of multiple diverse interests and viewpoints in a mutually supportive and trusting human social context; and
  • The commitment to action, to exploring , physically as well as intellectually, the available avenues for implementing their desires, overcoming the obstacles they face, moving towards a better world.

Immediately, tactically, imagination may suggest a variety of new approaches to immediate action. Since continued limited occupation of a restricted site poses major problems as the sole center of the movement, imagination and spontaneity can be looked to provide alternatives to reflect the growth and wide popular support of the movement. Some possibilities are mentioned below.

The following spells out the argument.

There is a deep unease in the country, and internationally. People are dissatisfied, and are suffering. Their specific complaints have to do with jobs, incomes, housing, education, war and peace, corruption, the environment, health care, the role of government, cultural norms, injustice, discrimination, inequality. Underneath are strong if often inchoate feelings. ranging from despair to insecurity to broad discontent with things as they are, unhappiness at the direction in which they are going.  And those feelings are leading to active resistance, demands for change finding their expression more and more in communities and work places, and very visibly on the streets of our cities

Where does the Occupy movement fit into this picture? Where might it go, in the immediate future and in the long run, the big picture?? Will it disappear after its brief moment of fame? Will it end up co-opted, perhaps pushing the Democratic Party a bit to the left, joining a range of movement-type players in the political game? Might it split up into a variety of single-issue organizations, pushing certain specific reforms, lingering as one or more lobbying groups? Will it press for the most far-reaching “non-reformist reforms” feasible reforms within the system, non-reformist reforms, hoping they will lead to deeper system changes? Or will they produce a dramatic change in power structures, a revolution?

In the big picture, cooptation seems to me not be a big danger for happy and for unhappy reasons. Happily, the participants in the Occupy movements are smart, alert, aware, quite sophisticated, some quite experienced, and know who is on their side and who isn’t. Nor can they be so easily bought off, without starting on the very road they wish to go, with some fundamental changes in the economic, political, and social system. Less happily, they are not (yet?) large enough in numbers or power to constitute a threat that must be bought off; so far, the 1% may feel that between the police, the weather, the passage of time, the power of the media, they have nothing serious to worry about. Ben Bernanke may express mild sympathy of the movement, but he is not likely either to win it over or to join it himself. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is circulating petitions declaring “I stand with the Occupy Wall Street protests;”[1] such support can be welcomed, as long as a distance is kept.

The pressure to whittle down the movement to one for specific reforms is one that is significant, but the discussions thus far seem increasingly to be aware of the pit-falls of that direction, the dangers of converting a mass popular movement into a enterprise in legislative drafting, political forecasting, tactical positioning. Occupy  is seen by most of its participants and supporters not as a set of pressures for individual rights, but as a powerful claim for a better world, a real alternative, to what exists; not a set of subsidiary rights in the city ,but a claim to the right to the city, to the world produced by the 99% and now claimed by them as their own..

Non-reformist reforms are an appealing goal, but not one that easy to define or pursue.  How does one tell a reformist goal from a non-reformist one:. Is opposition to charter schools, or more funding for public schools, reformist, or more? Is renegotiating mortgages with principal forgiveness reformist, andif not, what more should be demanded? Are living wage jobs on the one side and a millionaire’s tax of 5% enough to move towards real equality, or a way to prevent greater redistribution? Is providing subsidized insurance for the ill or injured a step towards universal health care, or an end point of reform? Are requirements for transparency and paublic participation in planning moves towards real democratic control of the future of cities, , or a way to avoid changes in the way they are actually built and managed? Are the differences maters just of degree, and when does quantity turn into quality change? Are small reforms way-stations towards larger, less reformist ones, or simply attractive dead-ends?? These are not easy questions to answer.

Unfortunately, the question of revolution seems easier to answer – in the negative. Under what circumstances a revolution might in fact take place is a theoretical question that has been subjected to extensive debate, but whatever the answer, those circumstances do not seem to exist today. The positions of power of the 1%, the control in the economy and in government, their command of the media, the power of the consumerist way of life, the dominance of its ideological supports in nationalism and the Protestant ethic, are too great, technology to firmly in the control despite contrary independent forays.

Strikingly, thee question of power is rarely  raised in discussions within the Occupy movement, at least to one listening from the outside. Yet, push their claims far enough, ask what in reality is needed if they are to be met, and the question of power looms  large. But the very organizatonal ethos of the movement militates against confronting that fact; the movement is against hierarchy, against controls, for discussion and debate and openness, against decisions made through the exerciseof power – with a deep desire to see the form of organization witin the movement, rejecting all use of power, aplied to the society at large. Anarchists are clear on the point; non-anarchists are not, and their views vary widely. The role of government as such, of the state, is involved; it is a tricky question, which the tea party, for not entirely unrelated motives, has answered one way, a way clearly unsatisfactory to most, yet a clear sense of the alternative is yet to be developed. Revolutions involve a major shift in who exercises power, at least initially, and the occupy Movement is not at the point where it sees itself needing to address that problem frontally. And it is probably right; revolution does not seem to be on the table as things stand.

If that analysis is right, non-reformist reforms end up as the only way to go, and I believe the Occupy movement I in fact reflects that position. Look at the various formulations, placards, interviews, demands, manifestoes that have come from it, and you will see claims for justice, equality, freedom, , justice, in many spheres, but not demands for this reform, that bill, such and such a tax, this or that change of regulation – although these are often components of claims that are made.

Looking at the role the Occupy movement plays within the general framework of the opposition to the status quo supports this conclusion as to the primacy of non-reformist reforms. The Occupy movement has three key characteristics:

First, it perceives a common thread among the disparate criticisms, crudely represented by the formulation “for the 99%, not the 1%,” with conflict inevitable as the 1% resist the claims of the 99%;

Second, it brings together with a deeply felt broad dissatisfaction with specific criticisms of the prevailing order and in a mutually supportive and culturally rich environment;

Third, it sees non-violent but direct action as a necessary means to implementing its claims in the face of the resistance of the 1%.

On the first point, the common thread, there is less else happening. Many of the groupings mentioned above lack an analysis of the causes of the defects that campaign against, or tend to place the blame on secondary factors: the media, the election laws, continuing racism, lack of regulation, etc., without probing the deeper structural issues dividing the 99% from the 1% that Occupy sees as the underlying issue. More on this below

On the second point, the bringing together,: the effort is not unique. A number of other movements have similar aims and composition: the international Social Forums, the loosely-organized “anti-globalization” network, the Right to the City movement, National Peoples Action, union and labor-community coalitions and workers’ centers, MoveOn, Restore the American Dream, and many others.

And on the third point Occupy is virtually alone, and this, perhaps, is why it has so quickly and so dramatically gained such wide-spread support, has been welcomed as at long last representing a Springtime on a par with the Arab Spring, and on a scale and in a manner approaching that which is felt necessary to match the scope of the problems of our times.  “Occupying” is a dramatic action, widely recognized, with positive national and international resonance, and will plausibly remain an appropriate hallmark of the movement.

Looking at the immediate future, however, the Occupation faces some uncomfortable truths. One of course is the weather; New York City is not Cairo, and the possibilities of sustaining an effective outdoor 24/7 campaign are more than daunting. The participants in the movement are no doubt already deeply in discussion as to how to address this issue, and they will decide for themselves how far and how long they can go. It may be wise to change strategy according to a specific timetable, rather than turn the occupation into a test of physical endurance.

One possible alternative might by for Occupy to replace is physical locational focus with a more temporal on: to meet, to occupy, only during specific hours or days of the week, perhaps not always at the same location, , with other locations strategically chosen.  Or it might join with other occupations to establish a prsence in Washington D.C., where the capital grounds or the mall might offer opportunities.

Another logical possibility might be finding locations that locally can be occupied consistently regardless of weather. That would be an entirely different approach, looking, for instance at Convention centers as spaces where General Assemblies might be convened, or other public halls or meeting places. Perhaps marches to strategic destinations, rather than focus on a single stable place of occupation, might work: marches to the headquarters of specific banks, specific firms, specific institutions, specific agencies: Trump projects, Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs, the Federal Office Building. might be effective. But those decisions must be made by the participants themselves, and made with the same imagination and resourcefulness that has characterized their actions thus far. Outsiders can be well see themselves as supportive, indeed as admiring, of what Occupy and its participants have so far accomplished, and help them do what they themselves in the end decide to do. They have earned our confidence so far.

What academics, professionals, writers, artists, intellectuals can do is another matter.  One of the three essential characteristics of the Occupy movement is the presence of a common thread running through the claims of its diverse participants. That common thread, more formally put, is an analysis of the causes of the conditions with which they are concerned.  1%/99% summarizes that analysis, but only in the most symbolic way. Just who is on each side of that division, how clear the lines are , what the dynamics of the relationship between the sides i s, what the tools/weapons each participant uses, how the strength of each is and how each is constrained, , just what needs to be changed in the big picture and how incremental changes can lead to or possibly detract from the desired result – these are all questions on which research, the lessons of history, the analysis of each problem, causes and effects, opportunities and blockages in the struggles – these are the issues on which academics and intellectuals (for not all intellectuals are academics!) can contribute. This is, in a larger sense, among what we are supposed to be doing.

A few examples: In housing, is the problem of foreclosures  and more broadly affordability on or regulating the giving and availability of credit, or are underneath that problems of speculation, of the treatment of land and housing as commodity to be allocated by the market, of private landownership, In health care, is the problem the monopoly position of the big pharmaceutical companies, the restrictions of patent law, the high profits of insurers, the inefficiency of hospitals, or is it the private nature of the health system, the funding of care and treatment on a pay for services basis, the need to see health care provision  in as a public responsibility to be provided publicly like police and fire protection, paid for out from public, social, funds? On questions of jobs, is the problem encouragements to private enterprise to create jobs, or is it the assumption that what is to be produced is what can be sold for a profit rather than what is socially needed, with public provision a n appropriate and major part of a healthy economy and private provision relying on profit based on low wages undesirable? In governmental taxation and land use policy, is encouraging decentralization and competition among communities a solution to uneven development, or does it aggravate the problem and require national solutions?

And in all of such cases, and generally in any matter of public policy, should we not expose who benefits and who loses, and what the respective power positions are of the 1% and the 99% in producing the results that are being questioned? Having made that analysis, is there not a need to propose measures and actions that will begin to address the injustices thus exposed, looking to immediate reforms that go in the direction of addressing the larger problems thus exposed – “non-reformist reforms, whose specification is hardly an easy matter? And that being done, is it not appropriate to politicize the results,  become directly engaged in the messy processes of putting proposals into effect, of becoming directly involved in the popular struggles’ that are involved, joining with those most directly affected in common actions trying to produce an alternative, a better, world? “Expose, propose, politicize,” might be one formulation of what academics and non-academic intellectuals can contribute if the wish to support the Occupy movement.

The growth and effect of the movement will depend, not on how many bodies occupy a specific place for a specific time this winter, although where feasible that can help, but on the imagination with which it takes up the task of exposing the ills of which it complains, formulating the claims it makes, and developing strategies to move towards their implementation. Its allies, in a supportive role, can be a big help.

.  Peter Marcuse                                                                                                   October 11, 2011

[1]  Eric Lichtblau, “For Democrats, Wary Embrace Of the Protests,” New York Times, October 11, 2011, p. 1.

Cathleen Black and the Management of Education

Mayor Bloomberg has named Cathleen Black, a “superstar manager” with a background in magazine publishing, to be Chancellor of New York City’s public school system. The dispute about her qualifications has unfortunately gone astray, and the New York Times, the four “prominent management experts” it consulted, and the state’s education commissioner, have not helped to clarify the real issue involved.  The experts, according to the Times, cited the examples of “corporate chieftains who hopscotched successfully from industry to industry” as relevant examples for what Ms. Black was being asked to do, citing as examples executives who went from making food and cigarettes to making computer equipment. The acknowledge some differences in management issues between the public and private sector – different stakeholders, differences in “culture,” but generally holding her “skill set” might be up to the job. But they ignore the central issue.

Private industry and public education have different purposes. The goal of private industry is to produce profit.  Whether the means to it is making cigarettes or computers, the bottom line is the same. The product sought is not the quality of the cigarette or the computers, but the size of the profit. Thus there is a common experience involved, a common task: the production of profit, and that is largely transferable from one industry to another. But profit is not the goal of public education. As Thomas Freedman points out in the same issue of the Times, there are major disputes in education as to whether the goal is the transfer of knowledge as measured by testing or the nurturing of a critical intelligence, to oversimplify a complex heavily debated issue. Ms. Black’s abilities in producing a bottom line profit in no matter how many different industries does not help here.

It is unfortunate that the Times saw fit only to ask management experts to comment on Ms. Black’s qualifications, implicitly seeing the issue as one of management competence, rather than educational competence. The management experts might at least have raised an important issue in most discussions of good management: clarity on what the goals of the enterprise being managed basically are. They did not; too bad. But should not educational experts of equivalent prominence have been asked to comment as well?

David Steiner, the state Commissioner of Education, did not help either in apparently interpreting the state statute requiring education experience and credentials to be satisfied if a second-ranking employee of the education department that does have such qualifications is appointed to serve under her.  That is exactly backwards. Ms. Black’s management expertise is indeed important in education as well as in industry, to make sure the goals of the enterprise are efficiently pursued. But that addresses the means, not the ends. The top position must provide leadership that is clear on the ends, the goals of the enterprise; having someone else in charge of managing the efficiency of the way those goals are pursued is fine, but that is secondary to the main task. Steiner might have suggested to the Mayor that Ms. Black might make an excellent second in command, under a leader with the kind of education background the state statute envisages at the top.

Peter Marcuse

[Responding to “Experts See a Tough Road for Schools Chief Nomineee” by Alison Leigh Cowan, New York Times, New York Times Nov 28, 2010, p. Metropolitan Section, p. 9.]

Community Benefits Agreements and their Limits

The need for Community Benefits Agreements highlights some fundamental weaknesses in the public planning and decision-making process, weaknesses frequent in the planning of mega-projects and thus particularly prominent in the use of community benefits agreements to deal with their impacts.

The Limits of Community Benefit Agreements

The need for Community Benefits Agreements highlights some fundamental weaknesses in the public planning and decision-making process, weaknesses frequent in the planning of mega-projects and thus particularly prominent in the use of community benefits agreements to deal with their impacts.

The problems start at the beginning. Land, once government owned, has been transferred to a private developer, without a publicly-formulated plan for its use. The well-known flaws in the old urban renewal process are repeated: the initiative in planning comes from the private sector, and the planning for the project is essentially privatized in the developer’s hands. Yet  the very first step is already a substantial subsidy given the developer from the transfer to it of a public property of very substantial value, in this case for $1. That was the point at which a fully open and democratic planning process should have taken place, with the development of alternative plans for use of the property, public hearings, full resident participation, etc.

Further, that process, when it does finally come into full play, neglects fundamental issues then belatedly and inadequately dealt with by the community benefits agreements. The economic issues, including those directly addressed by the Agreement here, should be considered in the planning process from the beginning. The economic benefits of a development, including the wages paid in its construction, and wages of the those working within it after it is developed, the description of the profits to be made from its development and use, are all matters of fundamental public concern. It has been a long time since planning was held only to be relevant to the design and use of buildings and land; key economic issues need to be much more specifically and frontally addressed.

Further, the concept of participation in planning is one that has been substantially developed over time, with modern techniques of communication and presentation, community forums, formal hearings, inter-active planning and feed-back on plans, technical assistance to community groups, wide and effective out-reach to make sure those affected, directly and indirectly, have the opportunity to influence the outcome. CBA’s, at their best, are a makeshift attempt to remedy earlier defaults in participation, and themselves often provide only a limited reach for alternative means of making the planning process truly democratic.

Many aspects of conventional city planning in many cities still reflect a time when planning  land use planning, and little more. The justification for such an approach is long past. The frequent reliance on community benefits agreements reflects an awareness of that fact, but a CBA is but a crude and jerry-built response, better than nothing, but not a long-term solution. The whole planning process should be restructured to reflect the contemporary reality.

Community needs likewise need to be introduced much earlier and much more specifically in the planning process. When a proposal is presented for the construction of 10,000 units of housing, largely luxury condominiums, an initial question ought to be the need for such units, compared to the need for other types of housing or other types of development. That is particularly true where, as here or in many other mega-project cases, there is a substantial investment of public funds in the project, whether directly, by the sale or assembly of land, by the provision of infrastructure, by tax concessions (including tax increment financing, which is after all a re-allocation from the general public purse to a particular project of expected tax revenues), good planning should weigh priorities, take into account social needs, look at the distribution of costs and benefits and pursue appropriate and democratically debated and decided priorities. A community benefits agreement is a belated last-ditch effort to make up for the failure to do so earlier.

Community input should not have to wait until a plan has been substantially agreed upon between a developer and a city before major participation takes place. Specifically, professionally-prepared alternatives should be available, prepared with full participation by the interested parties, in an effort, not to achieve consensus, but to clarify alternatives and issues. Development of alternatives should not be left to last minute and sometimes desperate community scrambling to defend a particular alternate to a proposed plan, but should be part of the initial planning process, and a part of the responsibility of the public planning agency – often best done when it includes technical assistance to community grou0s in planning as it proceeds. Alternates should not wait to be developed as minor modifications to an existing plan negotiated at the end of the planning process with limited input and formulated as a community benefits agreement.

Consideration might be given explicitly to raise the economic and community issues typically dealt with in community benefits agreements during the environmental impact review process. That process has slowly become an effective, if sometimes awkward, part of the overall planning process, and often is the main source of information about plans and proposals. Typically it will reference alternative ways to deal with problems that are foreseen, and a good EIS may provide substantial isight into what the larger alternatives might be. Typically also, at least increasingly, the social environment is held to be part of what needs to be addressed in an EIS, and often, although less explicitly, the economic impacts. Formalizing the issues to be considered in all EIS’s might be a way of helping improve the planning process, especially for meg=-projects, with the public sector leading the effort Negotiation of community benefits agreements is perhaps a reflection, among other things, of the inadequacies of full information and social and economic and environmental considerations earlier in the planning process, but is a very belatedly way of doing so.

Community benefit, after all, should be THE purpose of any good planning process, not a an afterthought to it, not a tail desperately trying to wag the dog of development