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Democracy and Public Space in the 21st Century: New York City

Organizing Committee:


Park Avenue was once a park.


Since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the right to free assembly has served as an outlet for popular discontent, with our parks, squares, avenues and plazas serving as our front lines.  In the 20th century however, these same spaces fell as casualties to the increasing demands of private interest.  Most recently, government response to threats of global terrorism has yielded tightened constraints on what little space remains in our urban landscape. National security now justifies unprecedented incursions into civil liberties, with public officials using permits, fees, and bureaucratic hassles to frustrate the vocalizations of public sentiment.


At the same time, the term ‘public space’ is being recast in the intellectual sphere: current discussions regularly define the term in a broad, figurative sense, moving away from real space to new online terrain.  The Internet and mobile technologies have been heralded as the new cradle of active citizen participation and democracy.


This course will investigate both the meaning of ‘public space’ and its relationship to democracy in the 21st century.  Is the public square a fading locus in which to develop and express political ideas?  And, what is at stake as these spatial borders shift more and more from the physical to the virtual? 


Conceivably (but not necessarily), the course could exist as a two-part seminar: part one would address the concepts/ideas at large, while part two would take New York City as a case study for detailed examination.  


Some questions for further examination and discussion:

  • How do we define public space in the 21st Century? What characteristics must it contain? And, how do these definitions enable movement of, and communication within, groups of people?
  • Is it useful to distinguish between the terms public realm/sphere (generally used by philosophers/theorists) and public space (used by geographers architects)?  Is it useful to conflate them? 
  • How should citizens participate in democracy and where should they do it? Is public space a necessary component for civic engagement? Does citizenship require the location of physical bodies in physical spaces?
  • How do a city’s parks, squares, and boulevards enable democracy? Are they necessary?
  • What is the significance of including the internet (and communication technologies more broadly) as public space?
  • What are there implications, if any, if public debate and dissent move primarily online?
  • How should the local authorities negotiate the sometimes fine line between free expression and havoc?
  • How has public space been qualified and regulated through the creation of sanctioned speech? 
  • What are exclusion/free speech zones and how are they used to control public assembly?


The seminar component focusing on NYC might also consider the following:  the histories/uses of Union Square, Tompkins Square Park, and Central Park; the history of the parade permit requirement (and its recent redefinition); the lack of space and poor treatment afforded to organized demonstrations at the 2004 Republican Convention.  Obviously, this list is not exhaustive...




SESSION 1 (See attached note for full description; readings can be found here): Monday, April 19, 7:15 pm, at 177 Livingston; taught by Craig Willse

SESSION 2 (See attached note for full description and reading list): Thursday, May 6, 7:15pm, at 177 Livingston; taught by Hillary Angelo & Kate Louis

SESSION 3 (See attached note for full description); Monday, June 7, 7:00pm, at 177 Livingston; taught by Elena Madison



  • Elena Madison
  • Hillary Angelo & Kate Louis


I can't open Does anybody else have the same problem?

Alden @ l shaped desk

This is a repost from an e-mail from Lech Szporer. He can be reached at

Dear Friends, Colleagues & Comrades:

As arguable as it may be, I still believe in the power of spontaneity.

I am writing to all of you in the hopes of organizing a mass Blind Walk.

The Blind Walk will take place on Sunday the 24th,
meeting place will be Union Square @ 12 noon sharp

Pretty simple and pretty effortless and undoubtedly effective,
we will gather at Union Sq. in front of the George Washington monument.
The idea is to walk from Union Sq. North up Broadway to Times Sq.

I will provide the blindfolds, just bring yourself and anyone else interested.
I expect the Blind Walk to go for no longer than an hour.

I am sending this email out to 30 people and I will contact others through other means.
This happening is open to anyone who would like to participate. The more participants the greater the mass volume.
Please feel free to SPREAD THE WORD (if you can or cannot make it) to whomever else you think may find this worthwhile.

In coming together, we will create a blind mass movement.
I can promise you that not only will this be one of the funnest things you ever did
but it will influence the way you feel the space around you and will in turn influence the space around us as a whole.
There will be a sense of solidarity, we will become a social sculpture (a social identity deprived of sight) and an urban installation,
a blind body moving through s[pace] along a line of flight.

To boot, the multimedia platform Sehnsucht Live TV
(run by Italian documentarians Emanuel Moszkowicz and Nicholas Pezzarossi) will be there to document the Blind Walk.

If you still believe in solidarity and the power of play or just want to experience something out of the ordinary,

Please, RSVP (via email or phone or word of mouth) so that I have a sense of how many people are coming.

Thank you for your consideration,
see you there.


P.S. I will buy a coffee for anyone who brings along two or more people. free cna training

P.S.S. Also, if you are interested in seeing a similar piece I did with the Reverend J.J. Blaa in 2007 entitle Blind: NY/Berlin see:

Specific chapters of Don Mitchell's The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Right to Public Space have been assigned for Session 2 of this class:

Please take a look at the Introduction, Chapters 1-4, and the Conclusion, but focus on the Intro and Chapter 4.

And, if anyone has a scanned copy of the text to share, please post a comment!

A description and reading list for the first session of this class are now available! See, The session, titled Neoliberalism: Cities, Space, & Surplus will be taught by Craig Willse, a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY).

Information on additional sessions is forthcoming...

I will post a description and readings and for the first session by tomorrow.

Are there any readings for this first session? Thanks.


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