Manhattan Agri-Industrial Zoning Enterprise: We own New York.

Project Description

The purpose of our planned urban intervention was to draw awareness to the phenomenon of land grabbing currently happening around the world.

An inflated housing market in the United States caused the 2008 financial crisis and Europe sent world economies crashing. At the same time, a food crisis developed in which the price for basic staples skyrocketed and caused many people in poorer countries to go hungry. While in many places food was still available, and almost plentiful, average citizens could not afford to buy it and many people went hungry. Though the United Nations speculated that a perfect storm of food scarcity combined with global recession cause prices to rise, a new theory has recently been presented by economists in which the financial markets played a roll. Many investors fleeing the housing bubble suddenly channeled their money into food commodities driving up global prices.

In response to this crisis wealthier developing countries decided to protect themselves from the potential unrest that a food crisis would bring. India, China, Saudi Arabia and other countries with the resources to do so, bought or leased land from poorer countries, mostly in Africa to grow enough food for their own populations. This sudden land grab has been displacing rural populations across the African continent, and is leading to an expansion of the global food network.

The deregulation of global food and land to make a vast network of export and import is not only bad for the environment, but has marginalized people in countries where people are being displaced, who are then not able to pursue basic life strategies such as subsistence farming and pastoralism. The Great Land Grab, as it’s coming to be called, is destroying communities across the world.

In order to draw attention to this problem, we planned to post about 200 eviction notices with the official NYC eviction logo in Union Square and Wall Street, informing the public that the world around them will soon be demolished in order to make way for a coming agricultural project. Since food is becoming a precious commodity, perhaps the new gold or oil, we wanted the public to know that Manhattan has been deemed prime space for the creation of a large scale agribusiness to export food abroad. Our local private company bought the land for a minimal price and will convert the landscape into the world’s most expensive food factory.

Materials/processes used

Using recycled paper from various offices in The New School, we planned to post our notices on buildings, subway signs, mailboxes, cross walks, and other city infrastructure to bring awareness to the fact that when people become displaced their whole world will disappear. We also created a website for a fabricated agricultural company we created called M.A.I.Z.E. (Manhattan Agri-Industrial Zoning Enterprise) www.maizeinc.net, intended to make people who read the notices believe that we were a legitimate corporation. We added the URL and a google phone number to our eviction notices to help spark interest in our project.

As food speculation and land grabbing will only turn food into more of a precious commodity, attention must be raised to alternative practices that will have a less damaging impact on the environment and people around the world. On this website we will also provided information on food consumption practices that can help fight the problem. Carolyn Steel’s book Hungry City provides a blueprint for a new city that is a ‘sitopia’ place of food, instead of a ‘utopia’.

Site conditions

Both spaces are landmarks in New York and would theoretically be great places for farms and agriculture. Union Square is more of a hangout and available to the public. Inhabitants include teenagers, homeless, couples, families and skateboarders. Wall Street, though accessible to the public, is quite the opposite, uninviting and tainted with accusation, scandal and corruption. It is the culmination of all things evil. Many Americans hold the corporation accountable for the financial crisis and Wall Street undoubtedly embodies corporate America. Each building on the block is manned with security and police, and it’s not difficult to feel like you are suspect of doing something wrong.

Project Impact

A few of the Union Square inhabitants instantly demonstrated their frustration with the eviction. Though we assumed that most people wouldn’t take the notices seriously, we were interested to learn that by the time we had posted the last notice, we were already getting voicemails on our google voice number. Of course, most of these passionate revolutionaries were completely wasted, but it proved for an interesting commentary on the eviction of the one place that these kids could go to be with their friends, kick some hacky-sack, smoke cigarettes (among other things) and practice their awe-inspiring skateboard jumps off the railing.

The actual process of evicting the space was not as difficult as imagined. We tagged benches, monuments, water fountains, park signs…anything we could until we ran out of about 50 or so eviction notices. We felt bad for the park maintenance man whose job suddenly became a bit more arduous. But he never looked for us, never even read the notice. Most people seemed to be disinterested in what we were doing at first, but then we started to get a few questions here and there about the project, mostly in passing. The couples and families sitting on the benches inside of the park didn’t seemed too excited about our intervention at all.IMG_2134 

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After the eviction, we realized that the very people we were getting responses from might be people who have actually been evicted before, who know what an eviction notice looks like. We had inadvertently been evicting the wrong people.

Wall Street became our next target, mostly because we knew the demographic would be less familiar with eviction and the consequences that displaced populations (whether at home or abroad) face. We made the mistake of implementing our eviction A. during broad day light and B. while President Obama was in town for the wreath-laying ceremony on Ground Zero. The entire place was packed with police, secret service and security C. I was dressed like the Unabomber near the site of one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. We really didn’t have much going for us. I nervously posted notices as fast as I could, was hassled by a security officer and somehow lost Boima (who was documenting) along the way. A few people seemed interested, but by the time we made the walk back from where we started, most of the notices had been torn down and we decide to observe the insane amount of security instead.

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Though our evictions were not as successful as hoped (we received a few drunken calls), it was still an interesting experience and if we had more time and resources, it could have some Yes Men potential.

Check out this short documentation of our experience:

 To view this post in powerpoint, please click here:

M.A.I.Z.E. We Own New York View more presentations from Sonia Bhagat

View an essay about our project here.