Repurposing The Square: Digital Symptoms of a Park’s Privatization
By Gregory T. Donovan
CUNY Graduate Center New York

Confronting Strategies in Urban Reinvention - The Urban Reinventors, Issue Nr. 1, June 2007

This paper explores the role privatization has played in the repurposing of New York City’s Union Square Park from an  organizational space for collective action to a ‘passing-through- park’ for tourists, commuters and wireless communication. Tracing a political shift in the park’s governance, beginning in the 1930s and culminating with it’s current public/private management, a decline in collective action at Union Square can be  found alongside an increase in individual wireless communication, a displacement of union offices by anti-union retail stores, and a  privileging of ‘tourist attractions’ and ‘marketing initiatives’ over public services for the local community. This paper concludes by examining attempts by certain groups to reclaim the park for collective action. By utilizing the organizational affordances of virtual space, these groups are developing ways to overcome the barriers to waging collective action in Union Square.

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Gregory Donovan is a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Psychology and a Certificate candidate in Interactive Technology & Pedagogy at The City University of New York Graduate Center as well as a fellow at the Stanton/Heiskell Telecommunications Policy Center. Raised on the South Shore of Massachusetts and presently located in New York City’s Lower East Side, his writing and research interests explore human interactions with and within virtual spaces during processes of education, political organization and citizen participation. Gregory is currently involved in projects regarding residential private communities in New York City, the production of educational media within the New Media Lab environment at CUNY, collective action in public spaces and children’s media research.

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