It has been a very long time that I did not write about the movement Take Back the Land (see previous article) which allows to ask very interesting questions about civil disobedience and fundamental rights. This movement, often represented by Max Rameau, constitutes, to my knowledge, the most illustrative and efficient illegal practice of architecture. In fact, the movement reclaims city’s space that suffered from speculative operations (vacant parcels, foreclosed homes) in order to accommodate those who, precisely, were the human victims of these same operations. The resistive actions orchestrated by Take Back the Land, beyond the simple civil disobedience, are implemented within the broader framework of a dialogue with the local community (neighbors and other people helped by these actions). Such a dialogue, not only organizes a better control of a group of people on the space it lives in, but it also sustain the illegal operations in time as it creates processes of defensiveness within a whole neighborhood putting pressure on the municipal authorities and the police.
The movement’s objectives are interesting to look at as they introduces very clearly what those resistive operations are trying to achieve:
- Fundamentally transform land relationships;
- Elevate housing to the level of a human right;
- Community control over land and housing;
- Empower impacted communities, particularly low income communities of color.
In the frame of this article, I would like to examine the second of this objective which is probably the most ambitious as it proposes to reconsider fundamental legal documents at the national level (constitution) or at the international level (charter or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Declaring Housing as a human right was probably irrelevant few decades or centuries ago. I am not a historian but it seems that in most cities, one could find a piece of land and build his (her) own house with no fear to be expelled from it by law (the fears were probably more focused on catastrophes and wars). Both bureaucratic communism (see in China for example) and capitalism (see again in China (!) but also in the Western world) elaborated some logic by which one can never be sure to keep her (his) home for any given amount of time. Whether we consider eminent domain, gentrification or the continuous debt that the mortgage represents, a economico-legal system exists, which, evidently, does not recognize housing as a human right.
One additional thing I mentioned in a previous article is that democracies congratulates themselves for considering the right to vote as fundamental but, for many of them, one is required to have an address to be able to effectively vote. Of course, someone who struggles to survive on a daily basis probably does not care much about voting, but this contradiction is illustrative of the deep problem at stake here.
What Take Back the Land has in mind, when they fight for this fundamental right to housing, is very likely based on governmental policies on public housing and foreclosure regulations; however it is probably also interesting to consider the problem in a more abstract way. Along with the globalized control and ownership of the land, the hyper development of the cities makes it impossible to build and own a home without serious financial implications or unrelenting suppression by the authorities (see the systematic evictions of the gypsies in France and more generally in Europe for example). Try tomorrow to build a small shelter in a city’s streets and you will soon understand the absolute impossibility for some of us to have a home. In those conditions, housing as a human right does not necessarily starts with an active production of homes for all -even though this solution is much more appreciable- but rather as the abandonment of suppressive policies against any form of actions like the ones organized by Take Back the Land as well as their legalization. What it would mean is that homes cannot be the object of financial “games”, and that governmental empty buildings should systematically made available to serve this purpose. Our body is necessarily occupying a part of space, and this space should be able to accommodate it in a way that is not harmful to it.