When activist-theorists such as Naomi Klein speak about the need to reclaim public space being increasingly appropriated by private interests, I consistently find the argument compelling. While the privatization of massive swathes of public space, such as those in involved in the natural resources industries, are the most obviously problematic, small-scale invasions of public space are ultimately just as problematic, since they feed into a system in which we simply expect every iota of space to be claimed and exploited by greater powers. Indeed, such micro-territorial claiming of space (a term I get from my reading of the work of the University of Worcester geographer David Storey) can seem the most damaging, because the fact that so many perfectly obvious, and hence shameless exploitations of public space going unchecked contributes to the sense that the system is rigged to protect the powerful. Whether it is California homeowners flouting the law by restricting access to public beach spaces (sometimes through the posting of fake “no parking” signs) or in the continued existence of “privately owned public spaces” such as Zuccotti Park in New York City (a site famous as ground zero for the Occupy Wall Street protests, as described by David Horvitz, and which has revolutionary roots going back to Sons of Liberty resistance to the Tea Act, as recounted here and here), private exploitation of public spaces is clearly a pressing problem across the United States (and indeed throughout the capitalized globe).
It is always nice to hear some good news about those successfully fending off private poaching of public space. Besides Tony Barboza’s LA Times article on California finally possibly cracking down on property owners who illegally seek to restrict access to public space, there is excellent and uplifting news coming out of the San Francisco area. As BBC video journalist Franz Strasser shows here, an enterprising creator of a hashtag called #jerktech, Josh Constine, put a monkey-wrench in the gears of two predatory tech companies aiming to shamelessly cash in on public space—Monkey Parking, which aims to profit by selling off access to public parking spaces, and ReservationHop, which seeks to sell access to sought-after restaurant reservations. Both of these start-ups seek to make public space their territory, with the former exploiting physical congestion and the willingness and ability of some to pay for spots that should be available to any, and the latter exploiting congestion within private spaces that, nevertheless, depend upon only reasonably limited public access (as in, yes, you do need shirt and shoes here, but you don’t need to be a member of the 1% to get in). Watching the BBC video made me feel delighted that so many see efforts to “monetize” all space as having crossed such a line that we need pro-active push-back such as Constine’s #jerktech campaign. Here’s to hoping that Constine’s successful actions—for both of the predatory companies he targeted are under social and, in Monkey Parking’s case, legal pressure—will inspire more resistance to shameless appropriation of public space.