People's Park Again: The Ongoing History of the End of Public Space

ASE Commons | Speaker: Don Mitchell (Syracuse University)

A Series on Race, Power, and Critical Thought whose aim is to highlight the research of American Studies and Ethnicity (ASE) core and affiliated faculty and graduate students, and to build community through sustained conversations and workshops.

People's Park Again: The On-going History of the End of Public Space | Co-sponsored by ASE Space, Justice, and Power Research Cluster

Between 2011 and 2012 three events in Berkeley and Oakland made it clear that debates -- and struggles -- over the nature of public space (what it is, how it functions in capitalist societies, what it means for those who use it) are far from settled.  The clearing out of Occupy Oakland was swiftly followed by an attempt by the University of California to once again remake Berkeley's People's Park in an image more to its liking.  But, about a year later, Berkeley voters defeated a sit-lie law designed to rid city streets of homeless people -- the first time since 1994 voters anywhere in the US failed to pass an anti- homeless measure.  Examining these three events, I will explore the question of the end as well as the ends of public space.  There is much validity in arguments that we have reached "the end of public space" in the "new American city" as an influential book from 1990 put it.  There is just as much validity to the argument that such an end is only ever a tendency (and a contradictory one at that) in capitalism and the struggle in and over public spaces necessarily continually reworks the ends of public space -- the uses to which public spaces are put -- opening up possibilities for new kinds of social struggle.  The end of public space, I will argue, is an always on-going process.


  • Department of Anthropology
  • University of Southern California
  • 3620 South Vermont Ave.,Suite 352
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-2537