Monday, May 28, 2007

the right to the city is like a cry and a demand

Friday night husband and I went for a bike ride with the Critical Mass of San Diego. For those of you who are not familiar with this group. See the history and info about it here at Wikipedia. The ride takes place on the last Friday of every month. Here in San Diego we meet at the fountain in Balboa Park and then go on from there. It was a wonderfully liberating event. As a mass of non-fuel propelled vehicles we traipse across the city making ourselves known. Sometimes going through red lights and taking up the entire side of a street - the mass is an active pursuit of public space.

Had I experienced this ride a few weeks ago I would have surely included it in my urbanism class. Henri Lefebvre, who witnessed the 1968 demonstrations in Paris along with the Situationists International, claimed that the "Right to the City" is "like a cry and a demand." That is, it is something to be declared, uttered and actively sought after. Citizens cannot expect to have a claim to public space without action and participation. The cyclists of Critical Mass realize that a group claiming their "Right to the City" is only able to raise a voice as a mass - in our case over 300 people.
Now, I am not an avid cyclist - in fact, I don't even own a bicycle. However, I do support by all means alternative transportation and public acts of resistance. Throughout the ride we experienced both support and antagonism from bystanders - which demonstrates exactly why Critical Mass as well as all organized acts of resistance should be supported. Because it provides an alternative to the status quo, it demands an active public space - and an agonistic pluralism (via Chantal Mouffe and radical democracy.) That is a public sphere where we don't all agree, but that we voice, yell and hold up our fists, because after all a cacophany of screaming voices is exactly what democracy is and should be.

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