New York Notes


And — the map is closed, but the autonomous zone is openHakim Bey

The Temporary Autonomous Zone

The Psyhotopology of Everyday Life

Open at the site of tension.

There was a time when all four corners of the South Bronx pointed toward rows of burnt buildings. If history repeats itself, as the contradictions of capital seem to reveal, then today’s vacant properties in New York City share a haunting reflection with its not so distant past in a 1970s Bronx.

The collapse of the Keynesian model caused a halt in the housing market, despite an existing economic structure that was guaranteed to fix itself. Instead, foreclosures increased across the city and manifested as vacant property. The local government and private sector failed to support those directly hurt by the crisis, which is seen again in today’s economic crisis.

We have people living on streets next to vacant homes. A lack of power experienced by low-income people creates tension towards new logic, and alternative parallels:  direct action – squatting – and a legal push to re-instate urban homesteading.

Frank Morales, a self-identified squatter, who once pried open vacant buildings in the South Bronx with a crowbar, asserts we “need to create heat in the streets” by direct action. At the same time, the current economic crisis has caused community organizations to coalesce and gather strength to rise against the authority of city government through permanent homesteading means.

Mobilization means communities work in unity to govern their own buildings, based on creativity and the knowledge they already own. Where instead of waiting for the city to turn on the heat during winter, residents occupying buildings create their own access to heat by removing parts of a washing machine to connect to the boiler.

Time is the first distance compressed by squatting. Second is accessibility to housing and services. If the occupier receives title to a property, then distance in the power relationship compresses so that resistance causes property owners to acquiesce.

The question, however, is if we look at 1970s New York City, the city today, and imagine the city in 40 years – will these spaces be more difficult to find? Will homogeneity create a greater lack of power and fewer autonomous physical zones – or as according to Hakim Bey, will we always have the Temporary Autonomous Zone?

After city ordered police targeted a limelight and wrecking ball into one of Frank Morales’ residences in the Lower East Side, Frank told me he lived for a long time with his bags packed.

However, when I asked Frank what he thought of squatting and homesteading as a from of TAZ, he answered with response to his LES days squatting next to Hakim, where they disagreed on one
word:  temporary.

Frank views the struggle to gain housing for those who need it as a permanent space, whereas temporary is a state of mind. Perhaps resistance that provides foundation for the autonomous zone is temporary – depending on who shines the limelight.