Town Planning Principles
The town planning working group helps manage physical infrastructure of occupation sites.
The Town Planners of an Occupation Site perform a very similar function to Town Planners in a normal town. Their primary concern is the safety and comfort of the community, and the smooth operation of all its various parts.
Beyond this, there can be few hard and fast rules for Town Planners, since every Occupation Site is different. Approaches vary according to the camp location (concrete, park, mixed), the proximity to water, toilets and features like lawn, trees and fountains, and of course, local laws!
Generalization is made even more difficult because the movement is still so young. One way to discuss the problems of Town Planning is through the use of stories. Town Planners are invited to add their stories here;
Town Planning Stories
New York, NY, 2011
I am involved in the town-planning working group at Occupy Wall Street. We are trying to establish a space that will be legible, efficient, and inspiring. By legible, I mean a space which makes "sense" - paths are deliniated, different functions are zoned off from one another, etc. By efficient, I mean creating a configuration which best serves the practical needs of the individual members and working groups of Occupy Wall Street. And inspiration ally, the space has to proclaim through its design the democratic, humanistic values and ideals we hope to spread across the nation.
We began by listing what practical functions and programs our space needed to house. We followed this by analyzing the site itself, taking note of how it was currently used - traffic patterns, social groupings, empty/full spaces, etc. We then were able to find a detailed map of the site, and printed out a series of large copies which we then distributed to different members of the Occupation. Each of them was encouraged to think of their own plans for the site, and what they thought the main things to avoid, and attain, should be. Following this, we compiled the different suggestions together into a proposal.
At its most basic, the plan divides Liberty plaza into two sections - a public section, where administrative and planning functions are located, and a private section for housing, social services, medical care, and other functions meant for individual occupiers. The spaces are divided by a clear pathway through the center, facilitating traffic flow.
There are both procedural and practical obstacles to our proposal thus far. Procedurally, the plan must be agreed upon by the General Assembly (GA), though plans are in the works for streamlining this process. Practically, housing and associated storage has overflowed the entire space of the park, and it cannot be zoned within a particular section of it unless we can find a way of condensing them, whether through the use of bins, standardized tents, or some other method.
Nonetheless, if we can accomplish this proposal, it will set an important precedent - for if we can complete as complicated, collective an effort as designing an entire city, we can engage in similar large-scale plans outside the park as well. It is an exciting opportunity for large-scale collective planning and action the likes of which we have rarely taken on yet. I look forward to providing you all with updates as we go on - but I would love to hear your own experiences, and suggestions, on town planning as we continue!
Auckland, New Zealand
October 13, 2011
We got started late (8 October) and did not form our Town Planning Group until 10 October. There are four of us. We each have very different skills, and we compliment each other well. There is a lot of respect between us, even if we disagree. We need divergent views. No one can think of everything, and conformity stifles the small signals that help us avoid trouble. We are learning to work together as a team.
"From the start, the Occupation Site chosen presented certain tactical problems. Overcoming these problems as Planners tested our individual problem-solving skills and our resolve. At least that's how it was for me.
"Our first job was to reconnoiter the preferred site. From that, we developed what we believe to be a good initial plan. Planning is essentially all we do, though each of us lends a hand in execution. We have very limited authority; we can plan but not approve. If we need additional authority, we are granted Special Mandates. We cannot exceed these. Having said this, these Special Mandates can confer quite extraordinary powers on the Town Planners, under certain very specific conditions. For example, Special Mandates allow Town Planners to make quick decisions in an emergency where calling a General Assembly would not be possible. These powers don't make Town Planners "leaders". We are more like surge-protectors. This way of doing things is very profound.
I've been quite impressed with how this works, and how quickly we were able to put it all together. When we get rolling, we get an incredible amount done. Working this way ensures that everyone has an opportunity to have input and to review our work without interfering in the creative process. And since the decision-making process is collective, everyone shares collective responsibility for the outcomes.
"All of us believe in the absolutely peaceful nature of our mission, and none of us are looking for trouble at all. We believe we are acting in the spirit of the law, even if we offend the letter. The spirit of the law is to ensure justice. The letter of the law is most easily used as a blunt instrument, as a means of repression. In modern society, the law is so complex, we are all criminals. You can have a SWAT Team banging down your door for failing to fill out a form you didn't know existed. Once you realize it's too late, that just being a part of the 99% already makes you an Unindicted Co-conspirator, you realize it's time to join the Occupation.
"You can't accomplish anything in society without risking confrontation. Even if all you want to do is draw a chalk painting on the sidewalk. This is the first issue every Town Planner has to face, before the Police ever come, and before the first camper ever complains there's no more toast. It probably gets easier, I don't know. I expect to find out soon - we march on the 15th of October. One thing is certain though, Town Planning is not for wimps."
October 16, 2011
We had our march. It was massive. We had perhaps 2000 people marching with us, and we kept picking up people as we went. For Auckland, that's a very big deal.
We arrived at Aotea Square, a large event space with three main grass areas and began to set up. We only had a few tents to start, maybe 10, I don't recall. We thought it was great we had that many. We thought that only a handful of die-hards would stay the first night. We were pleasantly surprised.
We expected to be bounced almost immediately. We had a special contingency plan in case we were. There was an incident with the Police in fact, but it got smoothed out. The Town Planners were working feverishly to get basic stuff established. There were a lot of people assisting. But we brought some expensive gear, and had too many people carting stuff - some of the gear got stolen. It was a lesson learned. Stuff has continued to get stolen until just recently, when our Security team started toughening up, bless-em. It was beautiful chaos. I'll never forget it.
Since that first night, I've been constantly in awe of our people. All of us original 4 Town Planners agreed together that our mission was to make the occupation self-sustaining. The strategy was to set up essential, autonomous work-groups, then turn them loose. One of the TP's started drumming the concept of us being a Do-ocracy, that if you have a good idea, then unless someone beats you to it, you're it for making it happen. We found there was no shortage of people who would come up with 'you should...' ideas, right when you're up to your eyeballs in something serious. When I briefly explained that this was a Do-ocracy, they mostly just excused themselves and went off to share their ideas with someone else who has more time and leisure. These people are in complete contrast to the amazing individuals who would come up to us and say things like, 'Are there any more jobs left in Sanitation? I love Sanitation...' This never failed to blow me away, since I couldn't imagine anything more important, or more boring!
October 18, 2011
We have so many work-groups and so many people that we institute a colored arm-band system so we can tell the doctors from the patients in the asylum. Orange arm-bands are for kitchen people, fluro green is for Town Planners, dark Green is for Sanitation and so on it goes. This system really helped a lot while people were getting to know each other. Eventually, the core group will become known, and the arm bands will no longer be needed, but for now, it's a boon.
It is becoming obvious that our role as Town Planners has changed. Because our strategy was to come in hard and set up fast, we fudged on leadership and just made it happen. That only lasted a short time, but as a result we ended up being known as the "Camp Directory Service". We were the Go-To people for the whole Occupation. This was bad. We were adamant that we would not allow ourselves to become leaders or foster dependence.
Still, we are forced to stick our noses into everything, because if we don't, someone is sure to get hurt. We solve petty disputes, train by demonstration, we ask people to not leave boards laying around with rusty nails sticking up, all of that kind of thing. It's exciting, but it's a trap. We decide consciously and deliberately to back out of this role.
October 20, 2011
We original Town Planners start to take off our arm-bands and training our replacements. But we're already famous, and everyone still keeps coming up to us, asking us about this and that. We smile, we help, but mainly we point them to the work-groups having to do with their request. It takes discipline. But I'm constantly annoyed with myself, because I can't quite stop acting like a Cub Scout Mom. So I resort to denouncing the crimes of the 1% from a megaphone at General Assemblies. I throw myself into policy work. I feel better, like I've achieved something, and I've started to break the pattern.
'The GA gradually begins to loom large in our focus. We are faced immediately with many complex questions to do with the Rugby World Cup events being held. Also, the City Council is slowly waking up to the fact that we have arrived literally, right on their doorstep. The yaya's begin. There are ethnic tensions in our group because of Maori land rights and treaty issues, most of which I don't understand at all because I am not a native. But that smooths out and now relations are better than they've ever been. We seem to have weathered our first internal storms. They will not be our last however.
As a Town Planner, by this stage, I begin to feel it's my duty to thank the Council and the Police for their patience and understanding. We've had perfect peace up to this point, giving us space in which to establish ourselves and grow. But when asked to move back and allow more room for the Rugby fans, we stand firm. It takes two GA's to decide this. Eventually the General Will rules out, as Rousseau would say. I start to learn to accept this and let go a little. Handy notion, the General Will. Rousseau portrays it as irresistible. I am beginning to believe it. I make short, fiery speeches, about both the consequences of retreat and the reality of arrest. There is applause, but in the Assembly, the General Will rises not from applause, but from extended deliberation. It's very interesting to watch it unfold in action.
October 21, 2011
The first GA's are very rough affairs - a lot of kinks have to be worked out. But we are all learning, and we are all getting used to the idea that we need the discipline of the process if we are to get anything done.
The immediate civil confrontations don't seem to be helping - only afterwards do we realize just how close we came to breaking apart. It's a real baptism of fire. During the GA's we are often heavily castigated by certain members of our troop for various offenses, including spinelessness. The Maori, whom I greatly admire, are a wonder to behold, as they come in at various times, making their points in a powerful, warlike manner, which is very reflective of their culture. This injects a lot of power or 'mana' into the debates, which is exactly what it is intended to do. Several effete youths of indeterminate sex from the University promptly wet themselves and are never seen again.
I am in awe of these beautiful, proud people. The women are as warlike as the men. If you look at our video, you will instantly spot some of the Maori, at least two of whom have facial tattoos. I can barely disguise my sympathies for their determination to fight at almost the slightest provocation. But we are utterly committed to non-violence, and while I do not doubt they will not go easily, their posturing is partly ritualistic. I love them, and I wish there were more of them. I make friends quickly with many of them, because though they can be quite frightening to some, they are really very good people. We could use a lot more of them.
October 23, 2011
Today is perhaps my last real day as a Town Planner. I have been steadily devolving my responsibilities to others. I am moving into Policy, since politics is my real love. I will talk more about that to be sure, later. I have started a Policy Work Group.
Meanwhile, I'm like a new woman. Most of my Middle Class fears and anxieties have evaporated. We are constantly being filmed, photographed and patrolled in one way or another. I no longer care really, about the life I had before. I feel as if I was a prisoner before, but now I'm free. I feel like this is the beginning of a long travail to a future far better than I have ever imagined. Many new and unusual talents have surfaced in me, laying dormant all this time, waiting for just such a day as this.
For instance, this morning, I found myself suddenly thrust into a dispute between 20 or so of our own people and a group of Council workers. Our people had gotten a mistaken idea about something that was going on. The Council workers were erecting a protective fence around two sides of our camp to stop drunken rugby fans from running through. About 15 Occupiers were panicked by this, and more came running, ready for a frackas. They had forgotten, or weren't told that the GA had approved this two days before, and that everything was going according to the agreement. I understood their feelings - we had only just learned that more than 100 of our comrades in Melbourne had been brutally suppressed, after the police slowly kettled them with chain-link fencing just like what was going up around us. Now there was shouting. The altercation was drawing police where before there were none. If it didn't calm down, there would have been real trouble. It took 15 minues of hard negotiation, but eventually, I managed to resolve things. It was a close call. When it was all over, I realized I had never before in my life felt so centered, so completely aware and in command of myself. I did not expect this. Somehow, it occurs to me, I must instill this in all our people, so it doesn't depend on me or others like me to keep the peace in the moment - we all must have this ability.
Despite the occasional drama, I dearly love our Occupation. I don't stay overnight, because I live locally, but I don't like leaving. I feel something new is being born out of this. I feel that if I were to miss so much as a minute, I might miss a moment of history, or an opportunity to do great good.
The Auckland City Council has been superb. And the NZ Police have been utterly fantastic so far - they have acted with true professionalism. We have excellent relations with both the Council and the Police on an ongoing basis. I cannot praise them highly enough. We have put a lot of work into building those relationships - I have only played a very small part in that but I am close to it. Others have played a very large part. I admire them. As a group, we have done this mostly because that is the New Zealand way - NZ is a small country, and mutual respect is essential if we are all to get along. More than this however, we began with the knowledge that we were in this for the long haul, and that confrontation, if it occurred too early, would be counter-productive.
Outside of New Zealand however, it is a very different story. The repression of the Movement is in full swing now. We see the actions of the Police around the world, and when other Occupiers are harmed, it is as if we are harmed.
Around the Western World, the Police give every appearance of having been militarized and mobilized against the citizenry. As a global movement, to my knowledge, none of us have done anything to deserve the collective punishment that is being dished out to us. We are being treated like dirt. But I assure you, I am not dirt. I am a Middle Class person, a working IT professional with a long and relatively distinuguished resume. I'm no hippy tree-hugger, no offense to hippy tree-huggers. I'm an Organizer for the Occupation in Auckland, New Zealand, formerly a Town Planner, and proud of that fact. I am only trying to exercise my Democratic Rights and help others do the same. I am only trying to win justice and equality in our society. I am only trying to forestall the violent revolution which I strongly sense is coming. That must not happen. We must bring change; profound, systemic change. But we cannot afford to allow the third wave, violent revolution, to break over our society. If while in the course of trying to prevent this, some Police Officer should crack my head open and kill me, I hope in my last moments I will be able to savour the irony.
Only the People can prevent worse to come. The Police and Authorities not only cannot prevent that, but if it does happen, it will almost certainly be because they precipitated it. Revolutions, which are virtually inevitable, are only ever exacerbated by the effort to suppress them. The ruling elites always bring this on themselves. If they would only recognize the winds of change when they blow, if they could only accept the inevitability of change, and allow the pressure to release slowly, as the Occupation Movement is attempting to do, everything could turn out for the best. But no. Stupidly, their first brutal instinct is to hammer people into submission. All this does is fuel our determination.
I was not an activist before. I didn't think we needed a revolution. I still don't want to overthrow any government - I just want to restore our voice and our liberty. I was always just a helper. That is, until my people were brutally assaulted en-masse in Melbourne, trampled by horses and dragged by their hair. It was the Victoria Police that removed the last shred of doubt in my mind of the rightness of our cause. The NSW Police then confirmed me further in my decision, with the shameful assault they made on the Occupiers in Martin Place. I never considered it before, but now I can think of nothing else; I am now utterly committed to peaceful, non-violent democratic reform, no matter how long it takes. They've made a staunch peace activist out of a once passive, consumerist cow. Repression is fuel.
There is not a terrorist amongst us as far as I can tell. We eject any threatening or suspicious person so fast it would make your head spin. We have protocols in place to isolate agitators. Those who do not adhere to strict non-violence are not supported when they are arrested, nor are they welcomed back. Even drunk or drugged persons are not allowed amongst us - last night, I worked closely with our security team to remove several drunks who had slipped into our camp during the Rugby celebrations. We did this without so much as laying a finger on them, without raising our voices once, and without insulting them in the slightest. We are becoming expert in the principles and tactics of non-violence.
Terrorism and violence are utterly failed strategies. We renounce them not only on principle, but because they are stupid and wasteful. Those who resort to these methods do so as a desperate last gasp measure, because they are completely out of solutions. When practiced by states, it is a clear sign that state senses its own demise.
We do not fight, and we refuse to do harm. We do not react, we merely regroup, re-equip and return. They want us to fight them so they will be justified in their violent actions. We will not, and it infuriates them. Every unprovoked offense they commit against us makes them more violent, more desperate. Because of this, the police brutality against us world-wide is increasing in ferocity. When will they learn this does not work? For every one of us they take away, two more of us spring up to take their place. Eventually, they will go mad, and then they will kill someone, and then it will all be over for them. The more attacks they mount, the greater the odds that soon, one careless cop will finally make a fatal mistake. That first death will bring down on them the god-awful ire of the entire world.
The General Will must win out.
A bylaw-resistant shelter: Use 4' x 8' Corrugated Plastic Sheets, attached to very simple A-frames constructed from wood, and stapled or screwed at the bottom edge onto 1 x 4's (or something similar) to create lean-to's. Then, rudimentary wheels can be constructed and "bolted" onto the bottom edge or if casters are available, that's even better. These lean-to's are effectively movable signs and thus should get around bylaws blocking "structures" from being erected. Signage constitutes free speech, presumably as long as it is "held" by someone and thus cannot be forcibly removed.
This hasn't been tested in the real World yet, but hopefully there will be some examples soon. Thoughts?
Frames can also be built using PVC piping. PVC is light and transportable, and structures can be easily altered if the need arises. PVC can be sawed easier and faster than wood and requires no screws, nails, or staples to put together (which could lead to injuries if accidentally left forgotten on the ground). With the use of elbows, T-joints, and various other connectors, construction and deconstruction will be very easy. The shapes available to you will be limited only by your imaginations.
Wrap frames with tarpaulin and fasten with bungee cords. Or, alternatively, you can use visqueen, a relatively thick plastic sheet material commonly used by painters, but also used for covering greenhouses (this might be a good way to keep your shelter warm inside when the cold season begins to set in); puncture small holes in visqueen and use zip-ties to secure visqueen to your frames.