Tag Archive | Academia

Beyond Zuccotti Park

Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space from New Village Press

Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space from New Village Press

During the Occupy movement, one of the most important questions asked was who owns our public spaces and what is the role of these spaces and who is allowed (or deterred) from speaking? Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space is a new book that asks: Where can the public congregate and how can city planning, design, and policies support First Amendment rights to public assembly and free speech? The book features essays written by experts in social science, planning, design, civil liberties, urban affairs, and the arts that address the importance of our public spaces as forums for expression with an historic and contemporary lens.

I’m proud to say that many professors, current students and alumni of my alma mater Pratt Institute contributed to this thoughtful and important book. You can read more about the book (and it’s larger initiatives, current exhibitions, lectures and news) through Beyond Zuccotti Park’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competency

Recently, I stumbled upon the phrase “Cultural Humility” in an article by the Berkeley Studies Media Group. I had heard of “Cultural Competency” which is based upon the notion that diverse groups of people have varying cultural norms and the importance of understanding these norms before you engage anyone from that community. For example, an acquaintance of mine used to work at a non-profit health clinic and she had told a story about an elderly woman who was deeply religious and upon hearing that she was diagnosed with cancer, she refused to seek treatment because she felt as though her cancer was a punishment from God. Many of the doctors struggled with her decision but she was determined not to seek treatment. She said there were a few examples of other women of a similar background who had shared this view as well.

Health professionals Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia were looking critically at the idea of “cultural competency” and felt that these types of examples were reflective of a choice of an individual and not necessarily the choices of a larger group. They determined that it is not only important to understand that cultural norms exist but it is also important not to believe we could ever achieve “competency” in the understanding of a particular group of people because every individual is more than just a list of traits.

They also advocate for all professionals who work with community to be humble by never being afraid to ask questions because each one of us is a complicated, multi-dimensional human being. Asking questions does not take away from your intelligence,  is a sign of respect and only benefits our understanding. And relationships of mutual respect will always be the most reciprocal.

The tenants of Cultural Humility are:
A) Lifelong Learning and Critical self-reflection:
·      Each one of us is a complicated, multi-dimensional human being.
·      Each of us comes with our own history, stories, point of view
B) Recognize and challenge Power Imbalances for Respectful Partnership:
·      Mitigate power imbalances inherent in dynamics
·      Respectful partnerships
C) Institutional Accountability:
·      Expose and criticize your own patterns of institutional racism, injustice and inequity
·      Institutions must commit to adopt these policies

It is my view that the role of an urban planner is to help facilitate the needs and wishes of a community (the experts of the area in which they live), and although the tenants of Cultural Humility were designed to influence more respectful and informed decision-making within the medical profession, I believe Cultural Humility is essential in achieving this goal.

You can watch a 30-minute documentary about Cultural Humility “Cultural Humility: People, Principles and Practices” by San Francisco State Professor Vivian Chávez here.

Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade

Xela de la X shows the Ova’s signature sign. Photo by Rafael Cardenas via EastsiderWriter.com

While studying urban planning in graduate school I became fascinated with the sociology of public space. Why were some paces used more than others and why were some spaces perceived to be inclusive or exclusive by certain populations. During an internship in the New York City Department of Transportations innovative Office of Public Spaces, I began to understand that our streets were actually our largest public spaces and through public plazas for example, they had the ability to be transformed in to spaces that prioritized pedestrians instead of cars.

For my master’s thesis, I merged my interest in public space analysis, transportation planning and women’s studies by looking at what deters women to ride bicycles in New York City. Not unsurprisingly, motorist aggression and fear of personal safety were the greatest deterring factors for women but what surprised me were the limited opportunities encouraging those unfamiliar with riding a bicycle and the lack of attention to the needs of a wide variety of users in the design of our cycling infrastructure and facilities.

In spite of the ground that women have gained in the fight for equal rights, studies have show that women are more likely to run household errands and transport children and elderly family members. For some women, this can make their travel behavior and willingness to take risks different from that of a single rider traveling from Point A to Point B. Often, I look for examples of thoughtful cycling infrastructure  and the encouragement of bicycling to a wide variety of users (specifically women) so today I was ecstatic to read about the Ovarian-Pyscos, an East Los Angeles bicycle collective, in Los Angeles Streetsblog.

The Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade, an all-women bicycle collective from East Los Angeles, is not only supporting one another in cycling through the city and raising awareness about cyclists, they have become a powerful collective supporting women’s rights, social justice and each other.

The Ova’s gather before their Take Back the Night Ride. Photo by GLoTography via Streetsblog

From Los Angeles Streetsblog:

“Two months ago, when 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman was murdered in Lincoln Heights, the all-women bike group Ovarian-Pscyos Bicycle Brigade scrapped their previously planned ride to ride instead through the neighborhood to protest the killing.

‘Whose Streets,’ one woman called out.

‘Our Streets’ the more than 30 women riding answered.”

“Many of the women say they feel they are not taken seriously in the biking community because their rides aren’t as long as traditional rides, there are usually many first-time riders, and the ride will stop and wait for one person. But, these limitations, Ova member Natalie Fraire said, can be a positive.

‘We are encouraging a lot more riders and that’s more important, said Fraire.”

The Ova’s excel at inclusion. If you have any interest in learning how to ride, they will be there to support without judgement. This collective is strong, supportive, and has changed the lives of the women involved. Most importantly, it has given the Ova’s a sense of empowerment which all women richly deserve, cycling on the streets and beyond.