Politics Protest and Place:

The Role of Inclusive Urbanism in Civic Activism


View of the Women’s March in 2017 on Pennsylvania Avenue NW looking toward the U.S. Capitol / Photo by Mobilus in Mobili (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Background/Context


The mechanisms for political dissent and discourse have evolved over time. The great civic spaces of the Roman Forum and the Agora offered opportunity for public gatherings of great social significance, discourse, and debate. We are beginning to see a shift in the design of today’s public realm, partially born out of the reactions to the 9/11 attacks, but also caused by the primacy given to private property at the cost of investing in the places that enable the life of the commons.

Black Lives Matter protest at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW on June 6, 2020 / Photo by Geoff Livingston (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Does the modern public realm mirror how 21st Century humans want to live? Even though it would not be wrong to say that people are more connected with each other than ever before thanks to data and technologies, do we have similar platforms in our physical environment? So, as the social activity is moving more towards virtual environment, is it also diminishing the kind of experiences that traditional cities can afford?


A parklet outside CHICKEN + WHISKEY on 14th Street NW / Photo by Elvert Barnes (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Until the pandemic, we always had fixed designation for the spaces in our environment. But as we find new ways to communicate and connect with each other, we know that a fixed set of boundaries no longer exists. A street can be a vehicular pathway or a restaurant or a play area or a shopping market. And while people are trying to come together, our physical environment is filled with obstacles, both real and implied, caused by the primacy given to private property at the cost of investing in the places that enable the life of the commons.

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