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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Public art, Tempe gentrification and the death of uncontrolled space

I'd like to direct everyone yet again to my homeboy's great new blog, There's Something Happening Here, to appreciate his great recent article on the role of public/street art in the attack on Tempe's gentrification.
Reclaiming public space or attacking private property? Time after time of seeing working folks' evicted, their former abodes razed, and then high end condos put in their place, I've lately been more attracted to the entire scrapping of the concept of private property. Not so much because I enjoy dwelling on the negative, but just to settle shit with the rich once and for all. No more of the "We're reclaiming public space for all the people," just so the rich can take it back later and resettle it with their developments. Let's get with it and get to work on killing private property, so that we are no longer in the position of arguing the false dichotomy of advocating for public space, while all space is constantly enclosed upon.
The article goes on to feature video and analysis of the vanguard of anti-gentrification resistance in our town, highlighting the work of local artist, Disposable Hero, who has been hard at work counter-attacking in the public space that the invading armies of yuppies are so keen on fencing in. Disposable Hero and other similar combatants stand for a different interpretation of public space, and they deploy themselves and their art against those yuppies that scheme to cleanse our town of the last vestiges of real urbanism so they can crawl inside it's hollowed out shell and live out their plastic lives.

Of course, the interesting thing about the gentrifiers' perception of public space is that, despite the rigidity when applied to everyone else, it becomes quite flexible when it comes to their own needs. Thus, although they are constantly encroaching on our space ('uncontrolled space') both physically, legally and technologically, when the city streets need to be disrupted for their own needs, like this weekend for the third annual Pat's Run (a tribute to former ASU Sun Devil, Arizona Cardinal and dubious war hero Pat Tillman), what was previously public space is magically transformed with the stroke of a bureaucratic pen into private space - and a massive inconvenience for the rest of us.

Like Tempe's slimy developer class, the race will snake through the city streets, eventually winding up at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium (where the Devils and the Cardinals played while Tillman was with them). No matter: the run is a jingoistic festival that doesn't question even the obvious irony of Tillman's death. Therefore, any dislocation is acceptable for this purpose. In a real sense, the city and the organizers happily shift the social cost of this exercise upon the general residents of Tempe, while the benefits - the money raised, the gentrification project advanced and the war hero myth reinforced - are privatized in the hands of PR flacks, the media, advertisers, the government and the gentrifying elites. This is elite modern socialism.

Indeed, the pregnant question in all of this is totally avoided by both the press and the organizers of the event. The media treats his death at the hands of friendly forces in the passive voice, carefully removing blame and avoiding uncomfortable questions. Tillman's brother-in-law and director of the Pat Tillman Foundation, Alex Garwood, dodged the bullet Tillman couldn't this way:
Tillman's name remains in the news with investigations revealing the Army's deception in reporting the circumstances surrounding the soldier's death, but Garwood said the run is not about how his close friend's life ended.

"When you think of Pat Tillman, I want you to think about the incredible life that he lived," Garwood said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "The investigations and revelations, that's a part of it, but that's not his fault. The reason we have a run is because Pat lived. That's what I want you to know."
However, it should be pointed out that if Tillman died for freedom, Pat's Run poses a curious contradiction: we didn't experience the same welcoming treatment when we seized downtown Tempe two years in a row for anti-gentrification May Day protests. Nor, of course, do Tempe's homeless, poor and non-white residents, who have been very clearly given the message that they should not consider themselves a part of Tempe's new "urban" environment, whatever their past contributions.

Because, in the end, what is gentrification but a socialist project for rich people? The city, the university and other governments have their fingerprints all over downtown, making the developers and yuppies investments safe through massive subsidy (the kind they would never offer the rest of us) while bringing to the table the vital component that the private money lacks: enforcement. And, so, is it any surprise that ASU's police force would be the recipient of new mobile license place scanning technology, capable of searching out a poor person at the rate of thousands an hour? According to the State Press,
ASU police will soon mount two $28,000 license plate scanners onto two police vehicles, one that will patrol the Tempe campus and one that will travel between the other campuses.

The scanners will automatically screen a vehicle's plate and instantly retrieve all of the information linked to it. Officers can instantly tell whether the car was stolen and how many parking tickets it has received, said Cmdr. Jim Hardina of ASU police.

This should deter people from parking stolen vehicles on ASU property, Hardina said.

Police officials are excited to have this technology. The scanners will save them time, and they hope to have them up and running by the end of April, Hardina said.
The city is the fist to the private gentrifier's glove. And, in the modern technological era, such attacks on public space don't always come in the form of a billy club. Nevertheless, the effect is the same.

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(See, also, this previous PI article: "Marked, recorded and deterred: Technology and the future of the class war")

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