CED and the Occupy Movement

The Occupy Wall Street movement, and its cousins that have emerged in cities across the country, arrived on the UC Berkeley campus last fall in the form of “Occupy Cal.” Students set up small camping tents outside Sproul Hall in front of Savio Steps, named for the famed free speech activist, Mario Savio. Police, in a scene involving protester-police conflict and violence, ultimately removed the tents stirring controversy across campus.

In the wake of the tent removals, College of Environmental Design students led by students from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning hung a large sign reading “OCCUPY PUBLIC SPACE” in full view off Wurster Hall’s 10th floor. To draw attention to the role of design in social change, they also created a unique intervention intended to provoke and amuse.

CED and Occupy Enlarge [+]

Since tents in front of Sproul Hall were banned, the students filled two tents with helium balloons, floating them on long lines, along with an enormous sign reading “OUR SPACE”. Marching down from Wurster Hall in an exuberant procession, they tethered the hovering tents and sign high in front of the Sproul Hall doors. I too was out there in the cold with our students, their floating tents, and their comic signs such as “Frank Lloyd Fight!” We had an animated conversation about social justice and the future of public universities like Cal.

CED and Occupy Enlarge [+]

Back at Wurster Hall, some of the students, enrolled in a graduate seminar on public space taught by Professor of Architecture Margaret Crawford, were eager to engage in a discussion about the role of public space in social protest and change. We immediately decided to organize a panel discussion, creating a locus for more serious, academic dialogue.

So, on December 1st, students packed the new Wurster Gallery to hear faculty members Ananya Roy (City & Regional Planning), Walter Hood (Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning), and Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and MLA graduate students Rob Tidmore and Chris Torres debate questions of design activism, the meanings of public space, and the serious social, political and economic issues raised by the Occupy movement. It was an electric evening of tough questions and rapid-fire exchanges among panelists and participants.

The challenges that our university and college face are rooted in the political and economic dynamics driving the Occupy movement. The entire campus community understands this. Today’s students and faculty all know that activism is a vital and cherished part of this university’s heritage, but knowledge about the strategies and tactics that actually build movements must be learned anew. We must always begin with the substantive issues, and thus along with other Cal Deans, I have worked to organize a series of campus-wide forums to explore issues of social inequality and opportunity, taxation and citizenship, the economics of higher education, and the public character of public universities. Student and faculty organizations in turn are rapidly beginning to map out strategies for mobilization and identifying political pathways for change.

The creative and powerful intervention designed by CED students went viral, astounding people all across campus. I realized anew how proud I am to be part of the College of Environmental Design and to have the chance to help CED build on its historical legacy of activism, and fight for a more just future.

PS: You can see local news coverage of the CED student intervention online.

CED and Occupy Enlarge [+]
CED and Occupy Enlarge [+]
CED and Occupy Enlarge [+]
CED and Occupy Enlarge [+]

Photos: Alex Schuknecht, Cary Bass, Darryl Jones

Connecting Cairo to the Nile

Renewing Life and Heritage on the River

In 2010, we conceived a plan to craft a collaborative learning experience and to catalyze a new understanding of the Nile as a public resource for the people of Cairo.

With a population of over eleven million, Cairo is one of the densest cities in the world, supporting an urban population underserved by parks and other public open space. Yet the city holds remarkable opportunities to reconnect its people with the river that was historically its heart.

Cairo struggles with the impacts of population growth and urbanization on traffic, air pollution, and informal housing settlements.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Cairo struggles with the impacts of population growth and urbanization on traffic, air pollution, and informal housing settlements.

In January of 2011 in Cairo, in an intensive workshop involving 23 students and seven faculty from Cairo University (CU), The American University in Cairo (AUC), and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), interdisciplinary teams systematically inventoried existing conditions along a 12-km reach of the Nile from Maadi to Tahrir Square. The details of this workshop and its results were compiled in a report available online.

The first day of the workshop included student introductions at the recently designed Al-Azhar Park, site of a former landfill.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]The first day of the workshop included student introductions at the recently designed Al-Azhar Park, site of a former landfill.

Based on this fieldwork the student teams identified specific opportunities for ecological restoration and better open space connectivity with the rest of the city. The presence of historic landmarks and excellent views along the Nile also provide significant prospects for urban revitalization and economic development.

Challenges were pin-pointed relating to the existence of incongruent public and private land-uses along the Nile Corniche, and to urban waste management along the waterfront.

Following their investigations, workshop participants developed a strategic plan for a continuous trail network along the Nile with connectivity to important nodes in Cairo. They also developed detailed plans for the revitalization of two key zones: Athur El Nabi and Old Cairo.

The workshop ended just one week before demonstrations erupted in the streets of Cairo, highlighting public desires, expectations, and demands for major change. Bringing the people to the riverbanks could be an important step in improving daily life for millions, and could strengthen the city’s social fabric, and contribute to the democratization of Egyptian society.

UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Faculty Advisors and Coordinators:

  • Matt Kondolf
  • Louise Mozingo
  • Linda Jewell
  • Amir Gohar

Cairo Advisors and Coordinators:

  • Ahmed Sherif
  • Khalid Z. El Adli
  • Abbas el-Zafarany
  • Aboulfetouh S. Shalaby
  • Sami Shaker
  • Mohamed Nagib Abou-Zeid

Student Participants:

  • Noha Abbassy (AUC)
  • Krishnachandran Balakrishnan (UC Berkeley)
  • Tami Church (UC Berkeley)
  • Richard Crockett (UC Berkeley)
  • Nada Abd El-Aziz (CU)
  • Fekria El- Bialy (CU)
  • Ali Abd El Gawad (CU)
  • Momen El-Husseiny (AUC/UC Berkeley)
  • Mohamed El Kharbotly (AUC)
  • Heba Ezzat (CU)
  • Salsabil Fahmy (AUC)
  • Ahmed Farouk (CU)
  • Erene Kamal (CU)
  • Michal Kapitulnik (UC Berkeley)
  • Mirette Khorshed (AUC)
  • Madonna Maher (CU)
  • Malak Maher (AUC)
  • Rachael Marzion (UC Berkeley)
  • Nada Nafeh (AUC)
  • Adrienne Smith (UC Berkeley)
  • Bahaa Stephanos (AUC)
  • Mohamed Tarek (CU)
  • Rob Tidmore (UC Berkeley)
Student introductions at Al-Azhar Park
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Student introductions at Al-Azhar Park
CU, AUC, and UCB workshop students and faculty at Al-Azhar Park in January, 2011
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]CU, AUC, and UCB workshop students and faculty at Al-Azhar Park in January, 2011
Cairo university faculty lead workshop participants on a tour of Al-Azhar Park and Old Cairo’s Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Cairo university faculty lead workshop participants on a tour of Al-Azhar Park and Old Cairo’s Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district.
Ahmed and Malak survey bankside conditions in the suburb of Maadi.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Ahmed and Malak survey bankside conditions in the suburb of Maadi.
Old Cairo survey team on the Manasterly Pedestrian Bridge (from left to right: Adrienne, Professor Mozingo, Ahmed, Nada, Krishna, Salsabil, Rachael, Nada, Aly, Noha)
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Old Cairo survey team on the Manasterly Pedestrian Bridge (from left to right: Adrienne, Professor Mozingo, Ahmed, Nada, Krishna, Salsabil, Rachael, Nada, Aly, Noha)
View of the Nile’s east bank in CBD from the Marriott Hotel. Landmarks visible on the east bank include (from left to right) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the radio and TV building, the Ramses Hilton Hotel, and the 6th of October Bridge.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]View of the Nile’s east bank in CBD from the Marriott Hotel. Landmarks visible on the east bank include (from left to right) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the radio and TV building, the Ramses Hilton Hotel, and the 6th of October Bridge.
Students observe steep concrete banks, unused terraces, and informal settlements along the water’s edge
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Students observe steep concrete banks, unused terraces, and informal settlements along the water’s edge
Unused vegetated terraces along the floodplain in Maadi.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Unused vegetated terraces along the floodplain in Maadi.
Low wide flood plains in Maadi could be used for cafes, food stands, outdoor seating, and a ferry plaza.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Low wide flood plains in Maadi could be used for cafes, food stands, outdoor seating, and a ferry plaza.
Overcrowded ferries arriving at Maadi’s ferry landing demonstrate the need for a more robust and efficient ferry system.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Overcrowded ferries arriving at Maadi’s ferry landing demonstrate the need for a more robust and efficient ferry system.
Students and faculty compile and discuss fieldwork data during the workshop held on the campus of The American University in Cairo.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Students and faculty compile and discuss fieldwork data during the workshop held on the campus of The American University in Cairo.
Students sketch cross-sections of the Nile to assess constraints and opportunities for each study site (sketches by Krishna Balakrishnan).
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Students sketch cross-sections of the Nile to assess constraints and opportunities for each study site (sketches by Krishna Balakrishnan).
One of the small collaborative student groups discusses a strategic plan for the four study reaches along the Nile.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]One of the small collaborative student groups discusses a strategic plan for the four study reaches along the Nile.
Ali, Professor Mozingo, and Krishna evaluate proposed designs for a continuous river trail along the Nile.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Ali, Professor Mozingo, and Krishna evaluate proposed designs for a continuous river trail along the Nile.
Berkeley students visit the Giza Pyramids during a break from the workshop.
Connecting Cairo Enlarge [+]Berkeley students visit the Giza Pyramids during a break from the workshop.