Squatting is the action of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use.
Author Robert Neuwirth suggested in 2004 that there were one billion squatters globally. He forecasts there will be two billion by 2030 and three billion by 2050. Yet, according to Kesia Reeve, “squatting is largely absent from policy and academic debate and is rarely conceptualised, as a problem, as a symptom, or as a social or housing movement.”
Squatting can be related to political movements, such as anarchist, autonomist, or socialist. It can be a means to conserve buildings or to provide housing.
In many of the world’s poorer countries, there are extensive slums or shanty towns, typically built on the edges of major cities and consisting almost entirely of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission. While these settlements may, in time, grow to become both legalised and indistinguishable from normal residential neighbourhoods, they start off as squats with minimal basic infrastructure. Thus, there is no sewerage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap, and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.
Besides being residences, some squats are used as social centres or host give-away shops, pirate radio stations or cafés. In Spanish-speaking countries, squatters receive several names, such as okupas in Spain, Chile or Argentina (from the verb ocupar meaning “to occupy”), or paracaidistas in Mexico(meaning “parachuters”, because they “parachute” themselves at unoccupied land).
During the period of global recession and increased housing foreclosures in the late 2000s, squatting became far more prevalent in Western, developed nations. In some cases, need-based and politically motivated squatting go together. According to Dr. Kesia Reeve, who specialises in housing research, squatting by necessity is in itself a political issue, therefore also a “statement” or rather a ‘response’ to the political system causing it. “In the context of adverse housing circumstances, limited housing opportunity and frustrated expectations, squatters effectively remove themselves from and defy the norms of traditional channels of housing consumption and tenure power relations, bypassing the ‘rules’ of welfare provision.”
Dutch sociologist Hans Pruijt separates types of squatters into five distinct categories:
- Deprivation-based – i.e., homeless people squatting for housing need
- An alternative housing strategy – e.g., people unprepared to wait on municipal lists to be housed take direct action (as discussed in the preceding paragraph)
- Entrepreneurial – e.g., people breaking into buildings to service the need of a community for cheap bars, clubs etc.
- Conservational – i.e., preserving monuments because the authorities have let them decay
- Political – e.g., activists squatting buildings as protests or to make social centres
In many countries, squatting is in itself a crime; in others, it is only seen as a civil conflict between the owner and the occupants. Property law and the state have traditionally favored the property owner. However, in many cases where squatters had de facto ownership, laws have been changed to legitimize their status. Squatters often claim rights over the spaces they have squatted by virtue of occupation, rather than ownership; in this sense, squatting is similar to (and potentially a necessary condition of) adverse possession, by which a possessor of real property without title may eventually gain legal title to the real property.
AnarchistColin Ward comments: “Squatting is the oldest mode of tenure in the world, and we are all descended from squatters. This is as true of the Queen[of the United Kingdom] with her 176,000 acres (710 km2) as it is of the 54 percent of householders in Britain who are owner-occupiers. They are all the ultimate recipients of stolen land, for to regard our planet as a commodity offends every conceivable principle of natural rights.”
Others have a different view. UK police official Sue Williams, for example, has stated that “Squatting is linked to Anti-Social Behaviour and can cause a great deal of nuisance and distress to local residents. In some cases there may also be criminal activities involved.”
The public attitude toward squatting varies, depending on legal aspects, socioeconomic conditions, and the type of housing occupied by squatters. In particular, while squatting of municipal buildings may be treated leniently, squatting of private property often leads to strong negative reaction on the part of the public and authorities. Squatting, when done in a positive and progressive manner, can be viewed as a way to reduce crime and vandalism to vacant properties, depending on the squatter’s ability and willingness to conform to the surrounding socioeconomic class of the community in which they reside. Moreover, squatters can contribute to the maintenance or upgrading of sites that would otherwise be left unattended, the neglect of which would create (and has created) abandoned, dilapidated and decaying neighborhoods within certain sections of moderately to highly urbanized cities or boroughs, one such example being New York City’s Lower Manhattan from roughly the 1970s to the post-9/11 era of the New Millennium.
Adverse possession is a method of acquiring title to property through possession for a statutory period under certain conditions. Countries where this principle exists include England and the United States, based on common law. However, some non-common law jurisdictions have laws similar to adverse possession. For example, Louisiana has a legal doctrine called acquisitive prescription, which is derived from French law.
adding page this day
CityLab (@CityLab) tweeted at 6:57 AM – 18 Nov 2017 :
What squatting reveals about wasted urban space https://t.co/p3WKi6LrpH #citylabarchive https://t.co/Dk4RK9wGco (http://twitter.com/CityLab/status/931884175883427840?s=17)
Desperate times may call for what seem to be desperate measures. Squatting, for one, seems to be a radical act, even an anarchist’s play—but as Alex Vasudevan, a scholar of human geography at the University of Oxford, deftly shows in a new book, the occupation of wasted and abandoned space may have philosophical and practical lessons to teach gentrifying cities struggling to keep roofs over heads. In The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting (Verso Books, on sale April 4), Vasudevan traces more than a century’s worth of struggles, successes, and failures in alternative housing, in Amsterdam, Berlin, New York City, Milan, Vancouver, and beyond. He talked with CityLab about why self-determined space matters now.
When I think of the figure of “waste,” I am often reminded of the work of the geographer Vinai Gidwani, who points out that the verb “to waste” means to use carelessly and to no purpose; to fail to make good use of; to squander and damage; to let lapse. When it comes to housing, “waste” is often seen as both a necessary condition and a product of a particular economy system that treats housing as a commodity. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us, in this context, that the word “waste” also derives from the Latin vastus, meaning “unoccupied” or “uncultivated.”
In the case of squatters, the very act of occupying points less to a need to generate profit than a desire to use space in more equitable and socially just ways. ..t ..The very idea of “waste” is a source of experimentation and endurance, survival and subversion. A very basic, if potent, act of reclamation is, after all, at the heart of what they do, whether it is repurposing found materials or skipping food.
squatters are often able to reanimate wasted urban spaces and shape them in ways that point to a rather different understanding of what cities are and how we might live in them..t
the ways that people see and practice squatting as a way of moving beyond predeterminations that shape their lives. t..The spaces that they produced provided a platform for personal exploration.
It can be the most basic, necessary form of occupying a place, and yet we only find out when an abandoned house catches fire and the fire department finds out there were people living there.
The radical edge seems at a distance, but it’s still part of this whole wave of gentrification.
In Milan, you had squatters invited to take courses in architectural departments. In Berlin, an architects collective visited these old-age pensioners who’d squatted in a community center; they wanted to design a space based on their wishes and desires. It’s interesting how that exchange has been lost.
city sketch up ness
The urgency is there because so many people—including refugees—are precariously housed, and we need alternatives. I hope we can still look forward to some.
son of an asylum seeker, father of an immigrant (@doctorow) tweeted at 7:45 AM – 27 Oct 2018 :
#13yrsago Shadow Cities: the untold lives of squatters https://t.co/3vdLMh8Te7 https://t.co/WxpKM0wcPJ (http://twitter.com/doctorow/status/1056179990264537090?s=17)
iwan baan ness
occupied buildings.. common ing..