Columbia University Area Located on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street, St. John the Divine is the world’s largest Gothic-style cathedral. Begun in 1892 and almost completed by 1939, much remains to be done if the original plans are respected. Inside this Episaopalian cathedral are some beautiful tapestries, paintings by 16th-century Italian masters and several icons. Immediately behind the cathedral, you come to the campus of Columbia University. Founded in 1754 as King’s.
The idea of a city as a self-empowering subject reflects feminist critiques that emphasize the personal as political; and the tactics of squatters’ movements (as in Berlin in the 1970s) for a reclamation of space. I would add a third factor, also from Lefebvre: the reclamation of the idea of habiting’ after its diminution to the quasi-biological habitat’; Lefebvre observes, Habitat, as ideology and practice . buried habiting in the unconscious’ (Lefebvre 2003: 81). By reducing dwelling to eating, sleeping and reproducing, Lefebvre says, urban social theory, notably among the Chicago School in the 1930s to 1960s, denied multifunctional and transfunctional’ modes of dwelling (2003: 81). Squatting repossesses space and reinstitutes a basis of communal organization and cooperative means to meeting complex human needs. Hamburg’s squatters’ movement around Hafenstrasse in St Pauli came to media attention in the winter of 1987 when efforts were made to clear it: barricades were erected all the way into the red-light district, Radio Hafenstrasse broadcast around the clock, the city feared civil-war-like conditions were the buildings to be cleared’ (Park Fiction 2006). This was not a strike but a movement driven by the desire for self-determined life and dwelling’ (2006) after the legalization of squatters’ settlements in Amsterdam and Utrecht, and negotiations over the free city of Christiania in Copenhagen. If the insurrection in Paris in May 1968 was cultural as well as sociopolitical, the defence of squats in Hamburg in 1987-88 was equally so. Bands played every night, using electricity supplied by neighbours (or simply taken from the grid). After the barricades, the city developed better negotiating skills and soft policing methods. Squatters and activists also developed new tactics, such as raves and ambient discos. In this context of persisting resistance to development, Park Fiction was formed in 1995 specifically in opposition to a proposed new residential tower facing the waterfront. Linking with a music club and an anti-fascist alliance, Park Fiction organized a parallel planning process via networks formed in past campaigns. Coalitions formed, agit-prop events took place and, as ideas for a public park took shape, the city – ignorant of this -invited Schaefer and artist Cathy Skene to deliver a public art project, which they took as an opportunity to co-design the park. While Park Fiction was organized and purposeful, with grounded community links, the politicians were unused to dealing with informal situations and networks, and tended to be characterized as having a merely negative attitude – trying to stop things, supporting the dominance of the development industry.
A collective design and planning process ensued, leading to the park that occupies the site today. But it almost failed. A developer sought to annex the site, and the city started to go back on its commitments. But, at this point and quite coincidentally, Park Fiction was invited to exhibit documentation of their work at Documenta XI, in Kassel in 2002. Representation for the city’s radical artists, regardless of political positions, provided cultural capital for a city seeking cultural tourism.