Since the completion of Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway, it has been criticized for being under utilized. Now, the message from the city seems to be the opposite as police try to curtail the spread of Occupy Boston's "tent city". They have set up camp in Dewey Square, the southern end of the greenway and the hub of Boston's Financial District. Across the street are the Federal Reserve Building, One Financial Center and South Station. Its location amidst route 93's on/off ramps, Summer Street and the Fitzgerald Expressway ensures both autonomy as well as maximum visibility.
Within the boundaries of a police barrier, concrete walls and sidewalk curbs, the tent city has become a small city state. There is designated public space both for tent access and public gathering. There are general assembly meetings in which the residents discuss matters and make decisions by consensus. There are organized events, protests and even a lecture series.
There are a number of community tents that fulfill certain functions. Each one is located where it will serve the people best and has volunteers that operate it. The Media Tent offers power and wifi to residents and is located next to the main public space. The Food Tent gathers and cooks food. This is in the middle of the camp to be accessible primarily to full timers. The Sign Tent is an art station with an assortment of markers, tape, paper and cardboard for fashioning one's own signs. While all the other tents open towards the interior of tent city, the sign tent opens onto the sidewalk on Fitzgerald Expressway. This is the picketing area for most of the protestors. At the head of the tent city is a massive windowless building. It is, in fact, a vent building for the tunnel below. However, it reminded me of the Casa del Fascio from the blank facade, horizontal strips of text and a crowd of people gathered at its base. A slight rise and a concrete slab at the base of the building act as the perfect stage for rallies, lectures and protests.
When I arrived around noon, the only people present were the full time protesters. As I walked through the break in the police barriers that was the entrance, I couldn't help but feel as if I were walking into a medieval castle in the midst of a siege. There were at dozens of tents squeezed onto the now muddy lawn. On a raised platform at the base of the vent building, there was a young man giving a speech on the tectonics of police resistant barriers. Others were discussing tactics to deter police detention using a pair of handcuffs as demonstration. This, however, is only one of the many faces of the movement and as the afternoon wore on tent city saw various waves of supporters and onlookers come through. Union groups would take their turn on stage garnering crowds. University Professors would also lecture about the systemic problems of the current system of capitalism. Each wave was unannounced but seemed expected and choreographed.
Social media, no doubt, is behind the persistence of the flash mob like events which happen throughout the afternoon. The website, Facebook page and tweets are the strings behind the ongoing show, but also their own show in themselves. The media tent, located next to the main stage, ensures all activity on the ground gains some sort of web presence, while also ensuring sentiments expressed on the web culminate in some activity on ground. This self perpetuating system only shows signs of growing as media coverage results in more visitors and therefore even more media coverage.
The culmination for the day was the Verizon march. A procession of Verizon workers, union workers, war veterans and the generally unemployed lined up in front of the main stage. There were a series of speakers, some planned, others which were not but still welcomed. One man with a megaphone, who was leading the rally, led the march out of tent city to the paved area at the edge of Dewey Square where he gave another speech as more people gathered. At 5 pm the crowd left the square and, with a Police escort, marched on the Verizon store several blocks away. The march brought us through Downtown Crossing to the Washington Street storefront. The spectacle was clearly constructed as a message to Verizon using media coverage as the messenger. After some chants and speeches, we all headed back to the tent city where the rally merged once again with the activity there.
When it comes to mapping the square, I've realized that that rather than mapping it myself, the occupiers are the ones who should be mapping it. The space itself is the convergence and construction of multiple constituencies. The map should reflect this by being open to all for editing. All they need is the basic framework. A large sheet of plywood with the basic plan of Dewey Square and perhaps a key denoting the types of lines and symbols to be used. It would be integrated into the main wall of the vent building with other signs and the schedule so its visible and available to everyone. Beyond that they have all the tools to map it themselves in the sign tent. I could start out the map by drawing on the current boundary lines and location of community tents. The rest would be up to the protesters. It could be used to monitor boundaries, police presence, infrastructure problems and potential areas of growth. It would be part of the meetings where residents discuss defending the space against police. Each tent could fashion its own symbol to signify its presence within the tent city. Lots of tent city's residents are also in need of clothing, tarps and tent platforms to keep dry. The map could be a message board and locater for the delivery of aid. It would also be a form of community expression. Streets would be ironically self titled and, perhaps, even surrounding buildings mocked. It would be both a utility and another form of expression. Importantly, it would be flexible enough to change with the constantly evolving occupation of the square.
What would be even better is if the map itself was placed in front of a webcam that could read the various symbols through a tracking program and create a real time, reformatted duplicate in the form of an app. Anyone could monitor the status of the tent city from their own phone, tablet or computer. Protestors, onlookers and even police could use the map for their own purposes.
Or perhaps, all they need is a webcam peering down on the square from the office building above. I could sneak into the same conference room where I took the bird's eye photo and install a webcam disguised as an architectural feature like a mullion or thermostat.
Inspired by the militaristic nature of the "tent city state," I also thought that Dewey Square could be a game board where police and protestors are represented as clashing game pieces.