Cultural producers and community organizers collaborating to combat privatization and gentrification

For at least a decade a number of social movements have been reclaiming New York City’s public spaces: from the late 1990s Reclaim the Streets, to the Critical Mass(es), to the recent struggles against the rezoning of Williamsburg, Atlantic Yards, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and the privatization of Union Square, micro-initiatives and broad coalitions, tactical displacements and organized campaigns have opposed a vision of urban development driven only by corporate interests and real estate speculations.
As a collective working at the intersection of art and activism, Not An Alternative has supported some of these campaigns by producing props and visual aids to raise their visibility in the public sphere and to affect popular understandings of events, symbols and history. This activity has led us to observe some recurring patterns, most notably the fact that in the act of struggling local communities produce their own imagery, and sometimes even their own urban plans, rather than simply opposing the existing ones.
Not An Alternative will examine this imagining activity by presenting two recent case studies in which cultural producers and community organizers collaborated to combat privatization and gentrification. From New York City's most aggressive rezoning in Williamsburg/Greenpoint, to ongoing efforts to preserve historic Union Square, we'll present lessons learned and pose a series of related questions:

1) What is the role of cultural and artistic production in the restructuring of urban spaces?
2) How is cultural production used by capital to extract surplus from a neighborhood or a city district?
3) What are the most effective tools to contrast gentrification processes, i.e. the expropriation of social imagination for profit-making and real estate speculations?

In answering this last question, we will explore the recent creation of a distributed brand, named The Real Estate Industry, whose concrete development is being determined by different Agencies. The idea is simple: anyone who is actively resisting capitalist urbanization and fostering community development can become an agent of The Real Estate Industry. The brand functions as a narrative link among a plurality of Real Estate Agents (individuals) and Agencies (collectives), thereby amplifying the magnitude of each intervention.

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