Thursday, July 02, 2009

More on City Hall, Place, and Protest

Adrastros smartly flagged this op-ed by Richard Campanella and John Klingman about the plan to move City Hall into the Chevron Building. However, I thought it fell short of the expectations set by the title of the piece, City Hall not just a place, but a statement.

Klingman and Campanella argue that moving City Hall is a poor choice because civic institutions as important as a city hall should located in places that reflect that importance:

All three of our city halls were designed as iconic civic structures positioned to face important public urban spaces. They reflected visionary thinking.


The rest of the article alludes to the why public space at a City Hall matters, referring to it as a critical place that "serves important ceremonial and civic purposes," but it doesn't actually come out and say 'it.'

In his post, Adrastros does:

I suspect that what Nagin *really* likes about the Chevron building is that there's no place for people to demonstrate against him.


Now that's not quite right, as Mayor Nagin will be out of office before the Chevron building is open for business but the spirit is dead-on.

The title of the Klingman and Campenlla op-ed, "City Hall not just a place, but a statement," would suggest the kind of article I wish they'd written.

One of the more interesting fields I studied at university is the sociology of social movements. One very interesting topic was about the importance of public space for the exercise of the democracy - freedom of assembly - and how these spaces have been systematically eroded following the urban disorders of the second half of the last century. One of my faves on the topic, Fortress Los Angeles (available to read), discusses the militarization of space in L.A. following the Rodney King riots in the '90s. For more, also see this chapter from The Right to the City.

My objection to the relocation of City Hall has nothing to do with the design of the Chevron building or the fact that it is not an "iconic" structure. Rather, I wrote just the other day that this project concerned me precisely because it is along the same lines of so many other poorly conceived development projects the city has undertaken since Katrina that seem to reflect an unhealthy concern for the traditional benchmarks of individual political legacy instead of smart investments in quality of life, neighborhood infrastructure, and existential sustainability.

However, a secondary concern involves the proposal itself: not the look of the Chevron building but its location. Think about the absence of Duncan Plaza over the last year. Has its function as a gathering place for citizens looking to petition the government been replaced? What about its significance as a camp for the homeless? Did they not exert a symbolic and real pressure on the Mayor and Council to address the largely ignored challenge of poverty? If we're going to spend $9 million on something designed to promote the personal legacy of the current Mayor, I'd rather invest in remaking Duncan Plaza into a more pedestrian-friendly town square than moving City Hall into a fortress.

The plan to move City Hall reflects an uncomfortable authoritarianism that mostly seeks to commemorate the paranoia of the man proposing it instead of to substantively bolster this important municipal institution in a manner that will increase civic participation and strengthen local democracy.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

>Rather, I wrote just the other day that this project concerned me precisely because it is along the same lines of so many other poorly conceived development projects the city has undertaken since Katrina that seem to reflect an unhealthy concern for the traditional benchmarks of individual political legacy instead of smart investments in quality of life, neighborhood infrastructure, and existential sustainability.<

"Since"? I think this started with Morrison and has continued throughout since.

E said...

word. it's just much more offensive since katrina imo.