"Public Space as an International Human Right: From Kiev to Cairo to New York City"
Professor Gregory Smithsimon, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
From the Ukraine to Cairo to Occupy Wall Street, recent protest movements of very different stripes have coalesced around central, socially meaningful public spaces.
Our right to free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of movement, the right to safety, to work, and to culture are all recognized in international human rights declarations. But we need public space to exercise any of these rights. Professor Gregory Smithsimon argues that the international human rights framework should include the right to public space, both as a platform for other rights, and as a necessary feature in its own right. The growing privatization of public space not only robs us of places to gather, picnic, speak out, and protest, but deprives us of basic human and civil rights.
Gregory Smithsimon is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He is the author of September 12: Community and Neighborhood Recovery at Ground Zero (NYU Press), about the role of public space in redevelopment conflicts in Lower Manhattan after September 11, 2001. He is also author, with Benjamin Shepard, of The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces (SUNY Press), on protest movements and New York’s privately owned public spaces. He is currently working on Liberty Road: African American Middle-Class Suburbs Between Civil Rights and Neoliberalism, a study of how suburban space reframes political conflicts for middle-class African Americans.