Occupy Philly As Spontaneous Urbanism, Part III

As we watch the bulldozer and trash trucks arrive this morning at Dilworth Plaza, and read of a 5AM face off between Occupiers and police on North 15th Street, let’s wander through Occupy during a more bucolic time–last week, in fact.

In the beginning, the encampment had features common to vernacular urbanism, such as European villages or early American colonial communities, especially in New England. This I covered here. Soon enough, however, its prosperity bought the need to jigger things around some, and out of that a new north-south thoroughfare was riven through. See here. For Hidden City I summarized the two: see here. Today, however, I cover Occupy at the beginning of its decline, just after the first Get out! notices were strung up.Occupy Philly’s “main street”, as seen from the Market Street entrance to Dilworth Plaza.

A protestor with an interesting sign. Cf. here.

Disinvestment on the south side? Indeed–a couple of weeks ago and those stairwells would not have been visible. A large plaza has sprung up on Main Street’s south side.

Panorama of the south side.Alleys and side streets still remain, though.

Looking towards the fountain.

Tents built up right to the edge of the fountain!

A Marine hollowed out his own little space.

Looking west from the fountain.

You can see this tent by the Marine flag above. This is a better angle.

Rows of tents follow a broad north-south street through the heart of the community.The original street–remains broad.

Space has cropped up on the south side, where previously there was none. A whole block–gone!

An Occupier relaxing down a side street.

A windy back alley. Notice how it is only as wide as it needs to be.

Tents still showing strong neighborly interrelatedness.

This large tent dominates this pathway, in much the same manner as Ed Bacon described in The Design of Cities.

Active tents where our avenue meets the heart of town.

Main Street tents, again. Main Street divides the encampment into north and south sectors, and knits the two into one another.

A broad avenue on the north side of the encampment.

Broad public space accrues as fewer Occupiers camp, for one reason or another.

Another view of the encampment.

These tents are arranged around a little court. Notice how this court is actually the larger court behind the IT tent from last time–which was, prior to the IT tent’s installation, the site’s primary north-south thoroughfare.

The Homeless Tent.

Looking north from the Homeless Tent…

A dense agglomeration of tents looks like a little village between the foreground court and the background plaza.

Looking west.

Strangely, the large plaza area in the northeastern quadrant seems even more massive now.

The north meal tent area.

I notice the strangest thing whenever I pass by this tent. There’s a small front yard staked out–and the collection of stuff in it keeps getting bigger…and bigger…and bigger…

Cityscape of Occupy Philly.

Across the street, the ghastly MSB plaza. When I took this photo, there was real traction around the idea of moving Occupy there. That didn’t happen–it now remains to be seen if the protest movement can come to agreement with the city over another site.

Another shot of Occupy’s tent city-scape.

Detritus from a taken-down tent litters this little corner like a weedy, trash-strewn vacant lot.

Looking towards a neighborhood area from the broad northeast plaza.

Cityscape. Notice how the broader path is the primary walkway.

Once the “Ron Paul” and later the “Shelter” tent, this was one of the most permanent-looking features of Occupy Philly–and, soon after, among the first major tents taken down. Politics.

Across the street, Christmas Village being set up. Observe the difference. (Yet, in action, Christmas Village–especially in this Love Park setup–does have its own charm, especially at night, when it seems to have this hallucinatory German village ambiance about it.)

The Interfaith tent…closest thing to a church at Occupy, and one of the last major tents erected.

I love this hand-painted sign.

Tents and other shelters along the west side of the encampment–one of the last areas urbanized.

These were strewn all over the encampment. The Mayor’s first warning, I suppose. The eviction notice was the second. When the police sack the camp–the fat lady will sing.

This couple had me take a picture of them, and so I obliged. Hope you’re reading this!

Since these pictures were taken, the eviction notice was served, and now the final Occupiers have left. What was formerly a large, dense tent city is now a mass of vacant land. Alas, this vacant parcel has a coming use.

As the protest movement continues to evolve, a next wave of social protest will soon be upon us. In Philly, we’ve had peace so far; don’t forget, however, that the New York Occupation was ransacked, and that rioting has broken out on the West Coast.

About the author

Stephen Stofka is interested in the urban form and the way we change it. A graduate of the Geography and Urban Studies program at Temple University, he enjoys examining the architecture, siting, streetscapes, transportation, access, and other subtle elements that make a city a city.

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