Fighting for a Radical City: Student Protesters and the Politics of Space in 1960s and 1970s Downtown Manhattan

Article excerpt

In the popular imagination, 1960s radicalism often appears as a national phenomenon that varied little from region to region. The case of downtown Manhattan during these years, however, challenges this assumption. Student radicals at New York University in Greenwich Village were just as concerned with issues of urban equity and the politics of urban space as they were with more national concerns, such as ending the Vietnam War. NYU students advocated that the university offer open admissions and free tuition to any New Yorker who wished to attend and fought against what they perceived to be the university's imperialistic management of Bellevue Hospital.

In this paper, I consider the ways in which late 1960s radicals in downtown Manhattan negotiated how a city should be constituted, and I argue that, in challenging the concrete city conditions that they deemed to be indicative of larger systemic problems, these radicals' activism represents not only a piece of 1960s radical history but also a chapter of local urban history. Manhattan radicalism in the 1960s was predicated on the urban environment that it was a part of, and a consideration of the radical efforts to reconstruct the postwar city is essential to understanding period radicalism and the development of cities.

The rapid and transformative changes in American metropolitan areas after the Second World War and the leftist radicalism that is the hallmark of the decade are narratives that commentators often tell as two different, unrelated stories, even though, in the case of New York City, student activism had everything to do with the postwar city. My examination of radicals' work to enact local change takes steps toward furthering the efforts of a generation of scholars who have tried to complicate our view of "the sixties."

Dans l'imaginaire populaire, le radicalisme des annees soixante semble souvent un phenomene peu variable d'une region a une autre. Cependant, en considerant la situation des quartiers du sudde Manhattan, cette supposition est remise en question. Les etudiants radicaux de New York University (NYU) a Greenwich Village etaient autant concernes par des enjeux d'equite urbaine et la politique de developpement urbain que par des sujets nationaux, comme mettre un terme a la guerre du Vietnam. Les etudiants de NYU ont lutte pour des admissions plus ouvertes et l'annulation des droits de scolarite pour tous les New Yorkais qui souhaitaient aller al'universite. Ils combattaient ce qu'ils percevaient comme de l'imperialisme de la part de I'Universite dans lagestion de I'hopital Bellevue.

Dans cet article, j'aborde les manierespar lesquelles les radicaux de Manhattan des annees soixante ont determine comment une ville devait etre constituee, Je soutiens qu'en contestant les conditions urbaines, ils ont mis en lumiere des problemes systemiques plus larges. L'activisme de ces radicaux ne constitue pas seulement une partie de l'histoire radicale des annees soixante, mais aussi un chapitre de l'histoire locale et urbaine. Le radicalisme de Manhattan dans les annees soixante est enchasse dans le milieu urbain dans lequelilse trouve et une analyse des efforts radicaux de redevelopper la ville dans l'apres-guerre est essentielle pour comprendre le developpement des villes.

Les changements rapides qu'ont connu les regions metropolitaines des Etats-Unis apres la Seconde Guerre mondiale et le radicalisme gauchiste qui est caracteristique des annees soixante sont des recits que souvent les chercheurs considerent comme distincts, sans rapports entre eux, meme si, dans le cas de New York City, l'activisme des etudiants etait partie integrante de la ville de l'apres-guerre. Mon analyse des radicaux et de leur action afin de provoquer des changements locaux accentue les efforts d'unegeneration de chercheurs qui ont essaye de complexifier notre facon d'examiner et de comprendre [much less than] les annees soixante.

In May 1970, students at New York University "liberated" three buildings around Washington Square Park in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. …