Islands of LA has a few core values of principles that guide the project and its use of traffic islands as a vehicle for an ongoing examination and engagement with the city landscape, taking into account a variety of perspectives such as urbanism, law and cultural theory. These values include:
1. View traffic islands as available space (constructive, non-confrontational usage): this approach or methodology for Islands of LA began from its inception and is at its genetic or conceptual core. Prior to beginning the project, an essay by Margaret Crawford called Contesting the Public Realm was found online. The article is a feminist critique is a response to the “architectural ‘narrative of loss of public’ space lamenting the loss of public space, [and] argues that urban residents are constantly redefining the public sphere through their lived experience.”
Only the first page was available but the core idea was impressionable. It cast a new perspective on the dominant idea that we are loosing our public spaces to private interests (including shopping malls and large scale private sports stadiums), and presented an alternative view by considering the past and how those normally excluded used and constituted public space.For example, the public spaces we long for in the past were highly restrictive. Women and minorities couldn’t participate. Instead, they went elsewhere to fields or kitchens to gather and interact.
From this perspective, she asked, who creates the city? Is it planners, architects, city officials, etc or the everyday people who use the space. She looked at the city landscape from this perspective and found public spaces field with numerous examples of public life such as “outlaw entrepreneurs.”
Islands of LA interpreted this to establish an approach to the use of traffic island as available options and to engage in the use in a constructive and functional, non-confrontational manner. In the face of what seems overwhelming circumstances, the suggestion is to find an approach to the city and the use and availability of public space that emphasizes use, the absence of permission or fees and is non-confrontational. Islands of LA took this to heart and decide to view and approach traffic islands as available public space.
This approach impacted and continues to be at the core of Islands of LAs usage and investigation of traffic islands. It informed a belief in temporary and ethical, non-damaging use of these spaces. For example, signs where installed in a manner that created no temporary or permanent damage to public property and right-of-way was never disturbed. Additionally, there was an examination of what these spaces are and who uses them rather than an attempt to usurp or colonize them.
The question of searching for available space in a non-confrontational manner, particularly in relation to democracy, raises important issues that political theorists have begun to grapple with. Society and, in particular democracy, are marked by psychology, conflict and emotion. Islands of LA has begun to investigate theories of agonistic democracy that attempt to integrate and account for psychology and conflict in a constructive manner. Agonism is “a political theory which emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain (but not all) forms of political conflict. It accepts a permanent place for such conflict, but seeks to show how we might accept and channel this positively. For this reason, agonists are especially concerned to intervene in debates about democracy. The tradition is also referred to as agonism. ” (see Wikipedia on Agonism) Moreover, consider the essay, Deliberative or Agonistic Democracy by Chantale Mouffe, which attempts to consider the “crucial role played by ‘passions’ and collective forms of identifications in the field of politics….[and that] democratic theory needs to acknowledge the ineradicability of antagonism and the impossibility of achieving a fully inclusive rational consensus.”
2. Gathering in public without a fee for discussion and cultural interchange or community interaction: a second core value is the desire to gather in publicly owned public space without a fee to interact with other people and foster discussion and community, face-to-face interaction. Thus, traffic islands were seen as places to gather, however absurd this initially appeared.
3. Legal or lawful use of traffic islands: this value grow out of experiences in the first year of the project when the law firm Munger, Tolles and Olson agreed to provide Islands of LA with pro-bono constitutional advice about the use of traffic islands as public space for gathering. In the course of this relationship, MTO conclude that traffic islands are most likely traditional public fora protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. and California constitutions. Given this unique and highly important legal analysis, which dovetailed with it’s already established core values, Islands of LA focused on the legal use of traffic islands as public space for gathering including nuanced interpretations of the law to foster dialog abut questions of public space and support the identification and use of traffic islands as public space for gathering. This helped established Island Law, which has been tested in encounters with law enforcement that affirmed the safe and legal use of traffic islands for gathering including this dinner event. Recently, Islands of LA has begun a deeper investigation into the constitutional issue of peaceable assembly.
These are the primary core values or princples of Islands of LA. There are also various secondary principles which include the following:
- Communities are fragmented and dynamic: rather than singular or static. The ethical use of space is not based on who owns the space or whether someone is an “insider” or “outsider” but on how they interact with the space and its surrounding landscape, people and history. This perspective came from Miwon Kwon‘s One Place After Another
- Integrated or transdisciplinary: analysis of these spaces based on the topic rather than a particular discipline. Thus, the project has been informed and integrates a variety of perspectives such as law, urbanism, political theory, cultural theory, psychology and art.
- Archiving and mapping: the collection and documentation of the use of traffic islands supports a complex understanding of the space and informs how these spaces can be understood and utilized. This is enabled through the website and the functional map that provides information and direction to locations for anybody’s use. The archiving also has the important value of conveying the history of these spaces, which supports the Island Law and the legal analysis by MTO that, while it is an open question of the law, traffic islands are most likely Tradtional Public Fora.
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