What is the Right to the City movement? Where did it come from? Where is it going? Who are the actors and organizers sculpting this new social structure? In asking these questions and studying their answers, it’s impossible to not recognize one’s own role in this current wave of civil unrest across the globe. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been involved in the Right to the City movement for some time.
In Turkey, a battle to save the last public green space from the private development of an upscale mall has mushroomed into a national upheaval. In San Francisco, a similar resistance was so inspired by current events in Istanbul that activists renamed the gardens they hope to save from destruction after the now famous Gezi Park. The 2008 film ‘The Garden‘ chronicles a community’s heartbreaking struggle to save 14 acres of urban farmland in Los Angeles from a developer hell-bent on proving that nobody should have a free right to land.
Yet beyond street fights over land use, Right to the City encompasses broader circles of urban autonomy. Here in Portland, a recent scheme orchestrated by high paid lobbyists and so called ‘health’ consultants aimed at dosing Portland’s pristine water supply with fluorosilicic acid was crushed by a popular voter revolt. Most noted was the fact that the vote against fluoridation was overwhelming in the very communities who allegedly were suffering from a “dental crisis” that only fluoride would fix. With the fluoridation fight seemingly over, a new front in the water wars has emerged. Communities are organizing to obtain a waiver that would prevent Portland’s open-air reservoirs from being covered and converted to underground tanks. Left unchecked, this federally mandated move would pose a series of health risks to Portland’s pristine Bull Run drinking water, and would cost taxpayers over $400 million dollars for the initial construction contract alone. The current plan to stop the mandate is to remove the Water Bureau from the control of city hall and place it in the hands of a People’s Utility District via ballot measure in May of 2014.
Condo resisters near Gezi Gardens, San Francisco. Source: The People’s Record
Like Portland, many cities have seen rapid increases to rent well beyond inflation. Due to foreclosures and unaffordable increases to housing costs, blue collar workers and people of color are being forced out of their homes. In response, organizations like We Are Oregon, FUREE, and many Occupy chapters are empowering people to resist evictions and gentrification. To date, Portland activists have thwarted repeated eviction attempts by police and have helped keep foreclosure resister Alicia Jackson in her home for over a year.