Tuesday, July 17, 2012

when people create property lines

My girlfriend and I attended a dance performance created by Paloma McGregor in River Park on E. 180th Street in the Bronx over the weekend and came across an interesting phenomenon: the informal parcelization of public land.

People who wanted to hold events in the park—mostly birthday parties and baby showers—sent someone to reserve their outposts early. Each group had cordoned off their space with tape. We were there between 10 am and 1 pm and none of the parties had started yet, but someone was at each location guarding their terrain against claim jumpers. None of the occupiers talked with each other. Each was totally separate, intent on keeping control of the turf they had seized. Most of the green area of the park had been taken, walled off through these impromptu property lines.

My girlfriend—the choreographer/artist Andrea Haenggi—pointed out that the key design element of the park (it was reconfigured in a $1.4 million renovation in 2007) involved fences that divide it into quasi-private spaces. There’s a fence between each of the kiddie play spaces—separating the swings from the low stone animals from the bungee monkey bars. Some lawns are totally fenced off. And there are several compressed amoeba-shaped parcels that are also fenced off—perhaps to create little wedges of undisturbed habitat or simply to make drainage better.

We started to wonder if the way the city designed the park back in 2007—cutting it into parcels with wrought-iron fencing—had spawned a community reaction—cutting it into even more parcels with duct tape.

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