The city is man’s most consistent and, on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in after his heart’s desire. But if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is hence forth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in remaking the city man has remade himself.
—Robert Park, On Social Control and Collective Behavior (1967)
In The Magna Carta Manifesto, Peter Linebaugh describes the act of “commoning,” the way in which nominally public space is rendered a real commons, as a creation of “people expressing a form of life to support their autonomy and subsistence needs … taking one’s life into one’s own hands, and not waiting for crumbs to drop from the King’s table.” He argues that this key moment in the history of democracy must be understood not as noblesse oblige but as the expression of a vital right by those who would enjoy and exercise it.
Spontaneous Interventions is a record of 124 remakings of the city, each of which is a deliberate commoning, a grassroots intervention in our shared urban realm to rapidly render physical some form of a collective desire for a better life. These projects are efforts to remake ourselves by remaking the city, to assert the importance of equity, convenience, and pleasure in everyday life by addressing areas that the “system” has neglected, misunderstood, or undermined. This exhibition is a celebration not simply of the power of local initiative and creativity but an argument for the importance of inductive processes in a field dominated by the top-down, by big power, and by frozen formulas.
Our century is an urban one: Earlier this year it was announced that the majority of the Chinese population is now living in cities, reflecting the level of urbanization of the planet as a whole. In face of this exponential and accelerating expansion of the urban realm, it often seems that the tractability of the urban environment is doomed, that we are increasingly condemned to live in the blighted forms of life embodied in slums or in the dreary and deadening uniformities of the monadic identities of the multinational lifestyle, that the system itself is beyond challenge. The power of the work assembled here is in its assertion that the project of the city is an ongoing one—never to be finished—and that the forms of both resistance and fantasy are still wide open to those who care about the fate of our commons. Although the sites may be in cities across the United States, the example of their energy, humility, practicality, and possibility offer a tonic example for people around the world who are working to invent the common ground of our freedom and urbanity.
From these green sprouts of spontaneity, a forest of liberation grows.