Toronto School of Creativity & Inquiry (this time: Adrian Blackwell, Greig de Peuter, Christine Shaw, & Marcelo Vieta)
Entangled Territories, an event organized by Toronto School of Creativity and Inquiry (in this case, Adrian Blackwell, Greig de Peuter, Christine Shaw, and Marcelo Vieta) as Act 16 of the Public Acts project, was held within Adrian Blackwell’s installation “carpool” on Sunday, August 6th, 2006.* In an effort to shift the place of dialogue outside Toronto’s downtown, the event unfolded in North Toronto near Downsview Park, in the parking lot of Idomo Furniture. At the end of a subway line, yet in the middle of the city; amidst the inner suburbs; lodged between an army base, big box stores, and warehouses; and at the confluence of a highway, a subway line, and an airport strip—this site is entangled. It became a temporary commons, animated by bodies in conversation, disagreement, and creative acts in and against the neo-liberal urban agenda.
Arriving on foot, by bike, via subway, or car, and passing over a grassy expanse, a group of activists, artists, and theorists gathered at Entangled Territories to talk about the neo-liberal transformation of Toronto and about how it might be contested. Three independent conversations were opened by these questions: How is capital enclosing urban territories? What possibilities exist for the state to protect existing public spaces, or initiate new ones, when its role has increasingly become that of the policing of space? What capacities do ‘we’ have for resisting the enclosures in the name of constructing new urban commons? In a second round of conversations, the groups’ participants were remixed so we could explore how each question is entangled with the others.
The concept of the commons ran through each conversation, evoking a memory of a space of production and a source of livelihood to which access is conditional on neither private property nor waged-labour. Present or past, urban or rural, capital entails a massive private appropriation of the common: co-operation, land, habit, knowledge…. Enumerating the resources of the common, in public, extends the multitude’s self-awareness of its own power. Moving from description to action, intentional commons strive to desert the rule of capital. These are oriented towards non-commodified creation, unforced co-operation, and non-hierarchical organization. That means that commons cannot be conceived strictly in spatial terms: “There are no commons without incessant activities of commoning” (De Angelis in The Commoner, 2006). This grammatical move puts activity, ethics, and agency at the forefront.
The potential of commoning in the city is, however, stagnated, cut off, and punctured by the practical and affective neo-liberal power it is up against. In Toronto, for example, the downtown is gentrifying rapidly, displacing low-income residents. Land is rezoned to optimize profit rather than livability. New immigrants—those most affected by labour precarity—are warehoused in high-density projects in the city’s mature suburbs, giving residents living downtown the mistaken impression that economic inequality is diminishing. The costs of using public transit rise while the streets are polluted by increasing automobile congestion. Squeezed by new economic ‘realities’ (created through political choices and policies), the municipal government embraces the ‘Creative City’ model, cynically mobilizing creativity as first and foremost a mechanism of economic growth and its producers as exemplars of entrepreneurship in an age of intensified competition amongst global cities.
Neo-liberalism involves a process of ‘rolling back’ social programs while in turn ‘rolling out’ systems of control to police those adversely affected by the former. In the process, the fiction that the power of the state has been reduced unravels: witness not only the securitization of the city, but also how this is bound up with the geo-politics of permanent war. This in turn amplifies the fears that tend to foster consent for a strong state. There are two sides of the new society of risk: insecurity for those who have very little, and intensified protection for those who profit from it. Spaces, times, bodies, affect, desire, and incorporeal matter are seized, regulated, and controlled through increasingly flexible means.
In this environment, commoning sets out from a desire to disentangle a territory from the techniques of capture and the effects of enclosure. Such commoning is stirred by demands and desires for affordable places to live, sources of healthy food, a secure income, breathing spaces, pleasurable forms of life…. Never fully outside state and capital, existing common spaces nonetheless still can be found in our city. On its corners, in its parks and streets, and within its buildings, homes, conversations, intersections, and its geographies, the city expresses and stimulates emergent commoning activities. They dot our city’s territory: earthly commons (air), state commons (city services), socialist micro-commons (housing co-ops), and autonomous micro-commons (free schools).
As we talked, issues, urgencies, tactics, and tensions emerged. We documented them on the paper tablecloths that we gathered around. For us, these conversations confirmed the need to map Toronto’s existing commons, an initiative that would help us to both continue the discussion and further the practice of commoning.
We ate, talked, and listened to the sounds of the political punk project Republic of Safety, who rocked carpool with portable amps. We then left our appropriated site, and dispersed, moving again….
De Angelis, M. (2006) Introduction to “Re(in)fusing the Commons,” The Commoner 11. Retrieved December 1, 2006, from http://www.commoner.org.uk/#intro11.
* Editor’s note: This has taken us a long time to get posted up and we apologize to all concerned for the delay.