Academic journal article Theory in Action

DIY Urbanism as an Environmental Justice Strategy: The Case Study of Time's Up! 1987-2012

Academic journal article Theory in Action

DIY Urbanism as an Environmental Justice Strategy: The Case Study of Time's Up! 1987-2012

Article excerpt

"The idea of just going out and doing it, or as it is popularly expressed in the underground, the do-it-yourself ethic... is not just complaining about what is, but actually doing something different," notes New York activist Steve Duncombe (1997). Over the last quarter century, Time's Up! has taken just such a DIY approach to shaping the urban landscape of New York. Since its founding in 1987, the group has put forward sustainable solutions to urban problems such as pollution, increasing asthma rates, lack of green space, global warming, and congestion, through a direct action approach to street activism, demonstrating the possibilities of community gardens, non-polluting transportation, and bike power. The group has repeatedly offered cost effective approaches to challenges of city living. Rather than implore those in power or ask for permission, these activists helped shape what streets and public space could look like with graffiti, guerilla gardening, and festive bike rides, reclaiming vacant lots and car-cluttered streets for people-based uses. In doing so, Time's Up! fashioned the city as a mutable work of art challenging the increasingly contested nature of public space (Shepard and Smithsimon, 2011).

As with many cities, public space in New York is subject to a highly competitive struggle over access, land use, rules, and policies governing a global city. Over and over, those favoring DIY uses of public space have had to compete with those who see public space as a commodity from which to maximize profit by the inch (Logan and Molotch, 1987; Shepard and Smithsimon, 2011). These are struggles over the very nature and meaning of urban space. Influenced by movements from squatting to Global Justice and Occupy, Time's Up! has honed innovations in direct action in support of a more sustainable brand of urbanism, helping urban spaces feel vibrant, sustainable, and user-friendly. The following considers the ways the group supported efforts around community gardens and biking, while fashioning a distinct model of sustainable urbanism.

Full disclosure: I have been a volunteer with Time's Up! and the do-ityourself movement in activism in New York for well over a decade. This qualitative case study builds on multiple data sources including my voice as an observing participant, discussions with other participants, and historic accounts to highlight the story of Time's Up! and the public space movements it supports (Butters, 1983; Patton, 2001; Tedlock, 1991). Case studies such as this are effective for exploring and describing the life course of both social movements and community organizations (Snow and Trom, 2002; Yin, 1995). This form of research is useful for considering urban behavior and political participation seen throughout this report, as well as highlighting effective practices in planning and development, translating knowledge into action as Time's Up! has done to fashion its own distinct brand of sustainable urbanism (Birch, 2012; Shepard, 2013). In asserting a right to urban space by challenging a system of automobility, Time's Up! takes part in a distinct lineage of cycling activism extending from the Women's Movement to European socialism, environmentalism and anarchism, the Provo to Situationism, and clashes in the streets during the Republican National Convention and the Occupy Movement. Here, Time's Up!'s cycling advocacy is part of a pro-urban politics, which Henri Lefebvre described as a "right to the city" (Furness, 2010; Harvey, 2013; Horton, 2006).

Through the case study of Time's Up!, we explore do-it-yourself strategies vs. more conventional strategies for urban transformation. When liberal reformers arrive, radical wings often follow, pushing change through direct action rather than more deliberate means. For Martin Luther King's message of nonviolence, there was Malcolm X who preached change "by any means necessary." While liberal environmental groups such as Sierra Club support legal means to preserve the natural environment, more radical groups such as Earth First and Earth Liberation Front support blockades; Sierra Club sues and Earth First members climb into old growth trees to save them (Butterfly, 2010; Rosebraugh, 2004; Shepard, 2011). …

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