Occupying or Squatting?

1. Squatting Cities: The Future of Urbanism

see more at Robert Neuwirth’s Blog

The Optimism-Inspiring Statistics: (from a similar shorter Ted Talk)

  • Squatter cities reduce population growth to replacement rate (2.1 children per family)
  • There is no unemployment in squatter cities
  • 1.4 million people move to cities per year (many to squatter cities)
  • 1 billion people currently live in squatter cities (may be as high as 3 billion by 2050)
  • People don’t find themselves in debt

2. Squatting the world: Established Squatter Communities

I got turned onto this subject by doing a project on Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark (see here). Since the 1970’s Christiania has overcome massive adversity and established itself as true autonomous community. For a list of other established squatting communities check out the wikipedia page on squatting.

3. Squatting in the USA: Occupy Everywhere

One of the major criticisms of the Occupy movement is that it has no demands, but why is that such a problem? Because it means that there are no demands to be met, in other words there is no way to end it, and Occupy Wall Street is explicit about the goal that it should not end. Ever. Most people perceive this as an open threat, as in “we’ll stay until our demands are met, but we’re prepared to stay forever so don’t try and wait us out!” But without demands, staying forever seems like the goal.

Do 99 percent of people really want to see Zuccotti Park’s Occupy presence become a permanent installation?

While Occupy is not just about housing prices, homelessness is the single largest fear that comes from poverty. People would commit their grandchildren to lives of poverty before moving to the streets, if the banks would let them. (See: 64% of Americans Don’t Have $1,000 in Savings). The Occupy movement stands for freedom from dependence on  materialism and corporate infrastructure, but that starts with abandoning the fear of homelessness, which begins by removing oneself from the system, through voluntarily leave one’s own home in exchange for a squatter community.

The people who live in Zuccotti Park have nothing material to lose, and are therefore free, just as Armstrong explained in the TedTalk above. For now the Occupy movement is not explicit about the intention to establish permanent squatter movements around the US, but I anticipate that is just because they fear that would turn people off.


4. The 99 Percent: Is There Demand for a Squatter Movement in the USA?

An interesting article by Tara-Nicholle Nelson called “Has America Become a Nation of Squatters?” in Time Magazine exposes the current climate of home-owners in America. The claim is that although it is largely concealed a new form of squatting is taking place:

But next-gen, recession-created squatters generally operate in reverse, flipping the legal concept of adverse possession. They tend to be homeowners who used to pay their mortgage, property tax and insurance, but then stopped paying the mortgage, either because their home is worth far less than they owe on it or because they are simply unable to make their payments due to, say, a job loss.

The estimate is that the number of squatters living in the US ranks in the multiple millions.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that 5.4 million mortgages are presently delinquent or in some stage of foreclosure. And real estate data company Housing Predictor projects that 10 million foreclosures will take place between now and 2012. 

…and the number is of squatters is rising. In fact an article in CNN Money shows that not only are people who are already in the market foregoing their payments, but the next generation which supposedly should be investing in property is simply not trusting of the industry, and would rather not buy land. Makes it rather easier, when the money stops coming in, to get up and join the squatters movement.

Last Friday, the Census Bureau reported that the percentage of people who owned a home had dropped to 65.9% during the second quarter — its lowest level since the first quarter of 1998 and a far cry from the high of 69.2% reached in late 2004… Morgan Stanley calculated that the home ownership rate is more like 59.2%.

If the Occupy movement is really a call for a Squatter movement (and that is a big if), then in fact using Arab Spring as a template is not so appropriate since Occupy insists on non-violence. Rather the movement is more similar to the protests that begun in Israel in July against the corporate housing markets and skyrocketing rent prices, which led 300,000 people to occupied the streets and set up tents. Interestingly, that movement in Israel ended as a result of a resurgence of the military conflict in Gaza. What will it take to get Americans unified again? And if this is really spreading into an international movement, what could possibly motivate everyone to stop infighting and shift to focus our collective energy elsewhere? The movement would claim there is nothing.


5. Squatting is Nothing New: How Disney Portrayed Squatters in 1946

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