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Owning the Street: The everyday life of property

Amelia Thorpe, UNSW Law

Tue 18 May 2021

11:15am - 12:15pm

Building 24, University of Canberra / Virtual Seminar

Seminar recording is available on our YouTube channel.


Drawing on a recently-published monograph, Owning the Street: The Everyday Life of Property (MIT Press, 2020), this paper examines everyday experiences of and feelings about property and belonging in contemporary cities. It is grounded in an empirical study of PARK(ing) Day, an annual event that reclaims street space from cars. A highly recognizable example of DIY urbanism, PARK(ing) Day has attracted considerable media attention, but not close scholarly examination. Focusing on the event's trajectories in San Francisco, Sydney, and Montréal, Owning the Street addresses this gap, making use of extensive fieldwork to explore these tiny, temporary, and yet often transformative urban interventions.

PARK(ing) Day is based on a creative interpretation of the property producible by paying a parking meter. Paying a meter, the event's organizers explained, amounts to taking out a lease on the space; while most “lessees” use that property to store a car, the space could be put to other uses—engaging politics (a free health clinic for migrant workers, a same sex wedding, a protest against fossil fuels) and play (a dance floor, giant Jenga, a pocket park). Through this novel rereading of everyday regulation, PARK(ing) Day provides an example of the connection between belief and action—a connection at the heart of the book’s argument. Owning the Street examines ways in which local, personal, and materially grounded understandings about belonging, ownership, and agency intersect with law to shape the city. The analysis offers insights into the ways in which citizens can shape the governance of urban space, particularly in contested environments.

About the speaker

Amelia Thorpe is Associate Professor in Law at the University of New South Wales.

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