Hamakom (The Place), Public Space, Property, and Ownership

How might we better understand climate change, social inequality, and the sense of personal isolation that pervade much of modern society? In a metaphoric and material sense I believe the answer lies in societal conceptions of public space, property, and ownership. These elements are hallmarks of industrial society and in many ways define the boundaries and context of personal, corporate, and governmental relationships – temporally as well as spatially.

The parceling out of land (the Dawes Act in the US, the Inclosure Acts in England, and many more) for individual ownership and sale has and continues to be a major driving force in economic development. It is a precondition for the commodification of natural resources that characterize industrialized nations and global capitalism. The divvying up of land may also be responsible for the psychological and spatial fragmentation that cripples our communities, and our conceptions of complexity, continuity, and connectivity. By owning property and controlling production individuals fool themselves in to believing that they “can afford” to isolate and insulate themselves from the vagaries of life – an important shared experience that has historically helped bring people together. Our isolation is so acute in fact, that this author believe many people now seem immune to the concerns of their fellow human beings.

The avant-garde movement in Europe in the 1920’s made a point of calling out these often hegemonic and oppressive relationships through their work in philosophy, literature, and art. Postmodernism in the US in the 1960’s similarly critiqued and attacked iconoclastic institutional art and narratives that supported repressive policies (Huyssen – After the Great Divide). These two movements provide fertile ground for thought in their investigations and conceptions of space, power, relationships, ecology, and culture.

Judaism also provides symbolic and scrupulous tension to the conversation of public space, property, and ownership. In addition, it introduces an element of spiritual possibility and redemption that has historically been a major impetus for action (both for the good and bad) that is often embryonic or completely undeveloped in secular philosophical, literary, and/or artistic movements. I believe that by exploring the multiplicity and conception of place in Jewish thought through the characteristics/attributes of the divine name “Ha-Makom” (“The Place) in the Tanach we may be able to find clues and insight in to new ways of conceptualizing and managing property, ownership, and production that merge the spiritual and the secular.

To this end, I hope to develop a series of lectures and action workshops that tie together my interests as a landscape architecture student (avant-gardism, postmodernism, reception theory, everyday design, community empowerment, guerilla landscapes, and more) with my interest in Jewish ideas of space and justice (as expressed in the traditional agricultural laws of the Jubilee, Shmitta, Leket, Shichichah, and Peah. As well as through the diving name "Hamakom").

The next month or so will be crazy as I finish up the semester, however, expect a more in-depth post on the topic then. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you all think about the topic!

Chag Sameach and cheers for now.

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