Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Protest welcome, just no tents

The tent city in New York City's Zuccotti Park, maybe more commonly known now as Liberty Square was dismantled on the 59th day of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Protestors were surprised around 1:00a.m when police dressed in military style riot gear arrived unannounced and and encircled the park.  "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world," Mayor Bloomberg later said.

Those inhabiting the park were handed the notice shown below and given an hour to vacate the premises.  Afterwards, sanitation workers cleared the space private belongings, discarding them into dump trucks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Tents Come Down at Occupy Portland

On Saturday many protesters began to break down the tent city that had occupied Portland's Chapman and Lownsdale squares for the past 37 days, heeding to Mayor West's announcement of eviction and arrest of anyone who remained at the site after midnight.  The deadline seemed to be instituted after the news media began to continuously cite the camp as a haven for criminals, drug addicts, and the homeless.

As the tightly packed tents began to be taken down, large patches of the park's ground were revealed for the first time in weeks. Grass no longer filled the squares.  Instead a muddy mixture of straw, leaves, and dirt seemed to symbolize the end of a revolutionary movement.  Tents remained sparsely erected by undaunted protestors prepared to be arrested for the cause. Police began checking the backpacks of everyone entering the parks in search of weapons that could be used to resist arrest.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Occupy Portland camp given deadline to vacate

Portland's mayor on Thursday ordered Occupy Portland to take down its tent city on two adjacent downtown parks by midnight Saturday, saying conditions at the camp have become dangerous, unhealthy and a refuge for criminals.

Mayor Sam Adams said Occupy Portland "has had considerable time to share its movement's messages with the public, but has lost control of the camps it created."

Many officials in this progressive city have supported the message of Occupy Wall Street and have sought to work with organizers of Occupy Portland so the movement can be sustained here.

But what began as a protest against Wall Street morphed into a support center for the city's homeless and addicted population, a refuge for thieves and people who have previously had trouble with the law, and radicals who have favored confronting police rather than working with them. Police have linked campers to break-ins at local businesses, bike thefts, public drinking and smashing a police car window with a hammer.

Adams said the tipping point came this week with the arrest of an Occupy Portland camper on suspicion of setting off a Molotov cocktail outside an office building, as well as two non-fatal drug overdoses at the camp.

"I cannot wait for someone to die in the camp," Adams said. "I cannot wait for someone to use the camp as camouflage to inflict bodily harm on others."

He said Lownsdale and Chapman squares, now the site of the tent and blue-tarp city, will be closed as of 12:01 a.m. Sunday. When it reopens, the city will enforce laws against camping and erecting structures, the mayor said.

Police and city officials will immediately begin talking with people at the camp to try to persuade them to move before the deadline. Adams said homeless people at the camp will be put in touch with agencies that will help them find shelter.

"We will be prepared to make arrests," Adams said. "My preference would be that we don't have to."

The downtown camp of about 300 tents and tarps went up on Oct. 6 after a march in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protesters were sheltered by donated tents, fed by donated food and cared for by volunteer doctors and nurses. But it became a magnet for people not originally part of the movement. Sanitary conditions worsened. Businesses complained of theft.

Occupy Portland was able to set up camp at the two downtown parks because of a waiver granted by city government.

City officials and police have communicated with Occupy Portland organizers during the protest, trying to ensure things didn't get out of control. But officials' patience began growing thin when activists sought to occupy another park on Oct. 30. Police dragged away 27 of the activists when they refused to leave.
Protesters marched over two bridges on Nov. 2. They declined to inform police about the march route, forcing officers on bicycles, motorcycles and in squad cars to follow and block traffic for more than an hour. An officer was pushed into a moving bus sometime near the end of the march, police said. He received just minor injuries.

Adams said his order that the tent city come down "is not an action against the Occupy Portland movement" and he hopes it will continue _ but not where the camp is now.

"It is my sincere hope that the movement, with its focus on widespread inequity, will flourish in its next phase _ a phase where we can focus all our energies on economic and social justice, not on porta-potties and tents," Adams said.

Talk at the camp on Thursday turned to alternatives, including occupying a building in southeast Portland and occupying Portland's City Hall. A meeting was scheduled for noon on Thursday to discuss the next step.

Some protesters said they had invited the closure. A 21-year-old man who gave his name as Sam W. for fear of retaliation from other protesters said the "people who came to party" were the source of the problem.

"We had great relations with police when we started," he said. "The people in this camp brought the police baton down on their own damn selves. They'll be the first ones to leave, too."
Other protesters said they would not leave.

"Hell no, I'm not vacating," said Joseph Gordon, 31, who left Cincinnati for Portland before the protests began. "They can come in here and find me."

A 26-year-old woman named Emma said she wouldn't leave. "If we break up the tribes, that leaves us without any other options," she said. "The only power we have is in numbers."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Grid City

The familiar goal to “end homelessness,” both locally and nationally, is almost always sought through plans that attempt to modify people in order to fit existing conceptions of space in the city.  However, thought is rarely given to the other side of the spectrum - altering our ideas on space to fit the needs of people.

This can be attributed primarily to our unwitting tolerance of the Grid City.

“Mitigated by many political freedoms, the provision of parks, the inspiring presence of a dynamic, open landscape, and a recent history of social and economic improvements through struggle, the American grid nonetheless remains a powerful geometry of isolation which encourages conformity and disassociation, and deadens our living experience by denying our common bonds” (Lakeman, 17).

The grid is pervasive throughout Western society and by no accident.  The National Land Ordinance of 1785 divided all land west of the eastern colonies into one mega-grid and concurrently mandated that all city plans also take this form.  Often touted as a unique experiment, westward expansion was simply a mirror of earlier ancestral history.  The Romans, Greeks, and Assyrians had all used the grid as a means of conquest by division.  An essential component to a capitalist economy, the grid transforms land into a commodity, establishing divided and competing interests.

While I recognize the risk of romanticizing extreme poverty, the organic growth and autonomous nature of tent cities represent a desperately needed divergence from the grid.  Typically guided by necessity, tent cities take a more geomorphic form comparable to early societies.

Lakeman points out a fascinating, yet disturbing fact about these indigenous cultures that pre-exist the arrival of the grid: they tend to disappear (i.e. Native Americans).  The fate of today’s tent cities is no different.

There are a few rare cases where, after relentless determination, these informal settlements have fought to establish themselves in the city.  One example is Seattle’s itinerant model, which grants conditional use permits, allowing a tent city to legally exist on a site for three months before moving to new land. This requirement of continuous dislocation seems to be completely arbitrary, but clearly illustrates the city’s position: we can’t abide that this thing can exist permanently unless it moves constantly.  For if it did remain on one parcel of land, it would raise many of the unasked questions swept under the rug by our blind an involuntary acceptance of the Grid City.

The case of Dignity Village in Portland does just this.  After the camp was relocated dozens of times around the city, it received a stable piece of land on which it has resided for over a decade, slowly transforming from camp to village.  Lakeman describes the transition:

 “[Camp Dignity] started off as tents but immediately they were self-organized into clusters, they were a nomadic form of a village at the start.  As it was realized they were about to transition into a permanent sort of settlement patterns, they were about to re-enact human history here – the last 10,000 years is going to play out in a decade. They are going to be able to go from nomadic hunters and gatherers in a way - since they were subsisting off of what they could find - to settling and then establishing a system of pathways, nodes, and places… and then they would build it out and it would actually become an urban fabric that would be reflective… and in the landscape of America lets face it, almost nothing is reflective, its almost all produced by developing entities that is then consumed and inhabited – so this would be the only example in  the history of the city that actually reflected the people that lived there.”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Olympia's Camp Quixote

"Camp Quixote began on February 1, 2007 as a protest in downtown Olympia parking lot.  When local authorities moved to clear the camp, a church offered it sanctuary on its grounds.

Although it was very controversial when it started,  local opposition to the Camp melted away within a matter of months.  Other churches stepped forward to host the camp.  The City of Olympia (and neighboring jurisdictions as well) passed ordinances that allow the Camp to exist, but require it to  move from one church parking lot to another every 90 days.  (The County ordinance allows for 6 month stays, and the City of Olympia is considering a similar change.)

From its beginning, the Camp has been a self-governing community that elects officers, makes and enforces its own code of conduct, and provides mutual support and accountability to its members.

As of April 1, 2011, the Camp will have moved 20 times.  Each move is difficult and traumatic for people who are struggling to recover from adversity, illness, unemployment, and disabilities of every description.

The Camp is supported by a non-profit organization called Panza that grew out of the faith communities that have hosted and supported the Camp financially, and provided hundreds of volunteers to help Campers meet their basic needs and get back on their feet."

The transformation from a camp to a village:

"From the very beginning, the residents of Camp Quixote hoped to find land on which they could build a permanent village. Their vision was – and still is – to build a central community building that includes bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, a shared kitchen and social and meeting space, and about 30 one-room cottages. They want to plant a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and start one or more micro-enterprises that could bring in income to support the Village and its residents.

We have a site for Quixote Village, generously provided by our wonderful County Commissioners. It’s on Mottman Road, about half a mile west of South Puget Sound Community College. This county-owned land is within the Olympia city limits, in a light industrial zone. We are now working with the City of Olympia to get a zoning change that will allow us to build in this location.

We are also working with two architecture firms – KMB Design and MSGS – that are providing pro bono design services. Very soon we will have a firm budget estimate for the cost of infrastructure, permits, construction, and landscaping. The design for the Village is based on the experience of community living – a model that provides private sleeping space, and shared space for cooking, eating, and socializing. This model makes it impossible for people isolate themselves; it draws everyone into family life, shared responsibility, and a common quest for a better future."


-  Quixote Village website

Another article

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Update from the Occupation

Today we posted the sign for Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2) that illustrates a future vision for the community located in downtown Portland.  Afterwards, I headed over to Occupy Portland site to find some new activity.

"Power to the tents, power to the tents!" the people cried as the Occupy Portland movement expanded to the adjacent Terry Schrunk Plaza. "People in tents are people too!" While two square blocks of the city had already been packed with tents for the past two weeks, this was different - this was federal land.

The area was swarming with the Portland Police Department as well as Homeland Security, keeping the American people safe from themselves.

This expansion was imperative.  The city had already succeeded Chapman and Lownsdale Square to the occupiers, but the protest seemed to be stagnating and losing momentum.

While more and more tents continued to be erected in the space Michael Moore arrived on the scene, which really electrified the crowd.  Moore said that of all the Occupation protests he has visited, Portland is the largest he has seen.

The previous day demonstrators had taken to the Pearl District's Jamison Square.  Twenty-seven arrests were made when Mayor Sam Adams and the police decided to enforce the city's anti-camping ordinance in this instance.

Ray Whitehouse, The Oregonian

Videos to be posted soon...

Friday, October 21, 2011


Here's a sign made in collaboration with Mark Lakeman to be posted at the R2D2 site,  similar to the plans typically posted by developers on new development sites.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Implications of Occupy Portland

On October 6, a mass of citizens in Portland, Oregon stood in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City.  Known as Occupy Portland, the protestors claimed two square blocks of downtown Portland: Chapman Square and Lownsdale Square.  It was not long before tents filled the green space and a fully functioning village began to evolve.  General assembly meetings are held each evening where anyone can come to form proposals and voice their opinions, including how the camp should be run.  Many have generously donated food to the cause.  A kitchen, staffed by volunteers, distributes the food to anyone who is hungry.  The camp also includes areas designated to the provision of information and medical assistance, and there is even an engineering committee that works to improve the physical structure of the camp.  All services are free, there is no form of currency exchanged.

While the camp is in direct conflict with the city's anti-camping ordinance, Mayor Sam Adams has allowed the tents to stay without setting any time limit for eviction.

It is no coincidence that just a few days later a tent city, known as Right 2 Dream Too (R2D2), was formed.  A group of the city's homeless community has moved swiftly to set up a camp of their own at the corner of 4th and Burnside, just a dozen blocks north.   However, R2D2 is on private land.  The land owner, who has attempted to use the property for several other purposes but to no avail, has decided to endorse a homeless camp on his vacant gravel lot.  The move is being supported by the non-profit Right to Survive and headed by Ibrahim Mubarak, one of the founders of Dignity Village, a sanctioned tent city on the outskirts of the city.

Occupy Portland, along with several other protest camps that have been allowed throughout the country, sets an interesting precedence for public camping.  How can a city allow protestors to break an anti-camping law often by choice, yet enforce the very same law on those who have no choice?  As seen with the case of R2D2, the city recognizes this hypocrisy and police have been instructed to turn a blind eye to these violations, allowing the tent city to exist for now.  The Occupy Wall Street movement has now spread to over 100 cities throughout the country. It seems only a matter of time before more tent cities emerge.  A tent city revolution!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Planning Magazine Article

"Inside Tent Cities" was published in this months issue of Planning magazine.  I wrote the article to introduce the issue to professional planners around the country with hopes of improving relations between local governments and these informal communities.

"As planners, we should make a greater effort to include the needs and concerns of members of tent cities in our plans. At the same time, we must be careful not to further isolate these communities or to infringe too far on their autonomy in the process."

It is a difficult balance to find.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A tour of Tent City 3

I stopped in at Tent City 3 during my time in Seattle and was given a tour by one of its residents.

Entrance to Tent City 3 (TC3).  It is required that everyone must enter and exist through a single access point.

One of several rows of tents.

A kitchen with donated food and supplies.

An example of a "bunk tent," which provides shelter for multiple new residents before they become members.  Crates and wood pallets serve many functions throughout the TC3.

Restrooms at TC3.  Showers are also available on site.

A view from the street.  TC3 is located in the parking lot of a church/school. The tent city rotates to a new host every three months. A visual barrier is required at each site.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dale City, Virginia

>> Jahi Chikwendiu / WASHINGTON POST <<
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) workers remove a long standing tent city of around 80 members from VDOT owned land near interstate 95.

A view of Dignity Village

I stopped in for a tour of Dignity Village during my visit to Portland, Oregon.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tiny House Movement Thrives

     The so-called "Tiny House" has recently become a popular concept and movement in the United States due to economic pressures and a desire to live more simply.  Jay Shaver, co-founder of the Small House Society, designs blueprints for people interested in constructing their own tiny home.  He lived in an 86 sq. ft. home full-time until recently having a son and starting a family.  The space included a kitchen, bathroom, living room, loft bedrrom and porch.  Between 2005 and 2010 Shafer saw a 500 percent increase in business.  the homes he builds range from $40,000 to $50,000, or half that if the structure is self-built.  Ken Giswold, creator of the Tiny House Blog, finds that a key demographic in this movement are young people who don't want to be tied down with a huge mortgage and want to build their own space.  Retiring baby boomers who find themselves suddenly with large houses and empty rooms are also engaging in the movement.
     Shafer says that the reason his customers are interested in tiny homes varies greatly, but a common thread appears to be that "A lot of people don't want to use many more resources or put out more emissions than they have to."  These people are tired of they excessively materialistic and oversized lifestyle and of modern communities.  Shafer admits that this concept of living small and consuming less is very un-American.  Despite this, people are recognizing that the typical “American Dream” is outdated and simply unsustainable. 

Global Village Construction Set

Welcome to the world of Open Source Ecology (OSE) and the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), also known as the Resilient Community Construction Set.  It is a group of farmers, engineers, and other supporters.  They are engineering 40 machines that will allow any group to self-sufficiently start a village with modern comforts.  This is probably the coolest project I have ever seen.  May be quite useful in a world after oil...

See how its done:

GVCS in 2 Minutes from Adam Mitchell on Vimeo.