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Reading List July 27, 2019

Killing the Commons

A reading list on the privatization of public space.
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From Pavarotti to the New York Philharmonic to mass with Pope John Paul II, the Great Lawn in New York City’s Central Park has played host to variety of important events—all public, and all free.

But that all changed last weekend when “OZY Fest” moved in. Promising discussions with Beto O’Rourke and Megan Rapinoe, OZY Fest bills itself as an event where the audience is part of the conversation—not just an attendee.

Despite this inclusive rhetoric, tickets reached $400—betraying the park’s public function and its status, as our editor-in-chief Josh Cohen remarks, as one of the “country’s truly great public goods.” Indeed, when the event was cancelled last minute due to the extreme heat, New Yorkers rejoiced.

Today’s reading list uses OZY as its inspiration to focus on the pervasive privatization of public spaces. From beaches in Massachusetts to libraries in Washington D.C., historic spaces once open to the commons are increasingly closing their doors, and creating problems for our democracy.

—Rosie Gillies


Reclaiming the Commons
a forum with David Bollier

“Enclosures are troubling because they disproportionately benefit the corporate class and effectively deprive ordinary citizens of access to resources that they legally or morally own.”

• • •

Apple’s Newest Store and the Perverse Logic of Philanthro-Capitalism
by Benjamin Soskis

The rebranding of a D.C. Apple store as “town square” is an impressive marketing effort, but it can’t hide the erosion of public space that has taken place at this former Carnegie library.

• • •

Losing and Gaining Public Goods
a forum with K. Sabeel Rahman

“The practical realities of who can access which goods, and on what terms, represent the codification and institutionalization of citizenship—or its denial. Access to these goods is one of the key ways our society defines the demos itself.”

• • •

Free the Beach
by Andrew W. Kahrl

“All along the Northeast corridor, seaside towns enacted policies or stealthily adopted practices aimed at limiting the ability of ‘undesirables’ to access public beaches, segregating shorelines by class and race.”

• • •

The President’s House is Empty
by Bonnie Honig

“A president who lives at his private home(s) requires a mobile security apparatus and governance infrastructure. The public thing, the White House, enables certain efficiencies in the provision of security and administrative support but these are lost when the private option is preferred.”

• • •

Capitalism and the Urban Struggle
an interview with David Harvey

“One of the problems we have in New York City is that we have a vast amount of public space in which the public is not allowed to do what it wants. We have to liberate public spaces for these sorts of common political actions, and this is one of the arenas of struggle.”

• • •

Draining the Swamp
by Julian C. Chambliss

“Aggressive development opened up Florida, but the wealthy have hollowed out prospects for working people, degraded the environment, and made the consumption of Florida a rich man’s game.”

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