Battles over ‘Public’ Space: The Contested Use of Public Urban Parks in Miami and Fort Lauderdale

Authors: Rebecca Young*, Florida Intn'l University
Topics: Legal Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: homelessness, criminalization, governance, public space
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Public urban parks have become an important space of contestation, representative of arguments over who should be excluded from or have rights to the city in general. These arguments often draw on different understandings and strategic uses of the word public, such as in “law and order” or “reclaim the streets” arguments over expulsion or inclusion of “undesirables” (Belina 2011). In this paper I will examine the contested use of public parks by people experiencing homelessness in Miami and Fort Lauderdale through document analysis of transcribed commissioner meetings, news articles, laws, and law suits related to homelessness in both cities from 1988 onwards. These two nearby cities provide interesting case study comparisons since Miami’s criminalization of homelessness has been limited by a class action lawsuit, while Fort Lauderdale’s actions have not been confined in this way. Findings demonstrate that the removal of homeless persons from parks and other public spaces may be understood as part of a larger strategy attempting to render surplus populations invisible. However, protests in public parks, such as of the Food not Bombs activist groups, often use visuality to their advantage as well. I argue these cities both rule by aesthetics (Ghertner 2015) and manage homeless persons biopolitically, simultaneously using criminalization and care, even though these styles of governance have been contrasted in literature and policy circles. I further consider how, in response to anti-homeless legislation, protests in public parks use visuality strategically and consider how arguments such as right to the city can inform change.

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