Michael Sorkin (1948–2020)

Michael Sorkin (1948–2020)

e-flux Architecture

Michael Sorkin (1948–2020). Source: LafargeHolcim Foundation.

March 27, 2020
Michael Sorkin (1948–2020)

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our friend and comrade Michael Sorkin yesterday due to complications associated with COVID-19. Michael was an inspiration to all who saw the city as a battleground for emancipatory and progressive politics.

Michael was, among many other things, a prolific writer who approached the world with boundless energy, unrivaled dedication, and serious play. He was the principal and founder of Michael Sorkin Studios, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at City College of New York, the President of Terreform and Editor-in-Chief of Urban Research (UR). 

To honor Michael’s legacy, we thought it most suitable to republish a text Michael wrote for us in 2018, a manifesto for the city. Dealing with issues of accessibility and public space, his ideas presented in this text are perhaps more relevant now, in global lockdown, than ever. But they always have been, and always will be. His thoughts, and his dreams will always have something more to teach about how the city should be.


Certain Regulations Pertaining to Public Space in The City
Michael Sorkin
July 12, 2018

The City is a Res Publica.

The Right to Access to most of the City will be universal.

Everyone will be able to go everywhere in the City that’s Public.

Everyone will be able to go everywhere in the City that’s private that’s open to the General Public.

Private accommodation, hospitality, commerce, and other services, prospects, events, and possibilities offered to the General Public shall be subject to a Determination of Access by the City Department of Public Access.

The General Public is variably multiple and comprised of an unlimited number of Particular Publics.

The differences among any and all Particular Publics that comprise the General Public shall not be infringed.

No Particular Public shall enjoy free access to Private Spaces, such as domiciles, surgical theaters, dressing rooms, psychoanalytic offices, sensory deprivation chambers, occupied toilets, etc., which are reserved to Restricted Publics, notwithstanding that private persons who choose to exclude all Publics from the Private Space over which they—by reason of law—exercise control of exclusion and admission may also be members of certain Particular Publics and entitled to exercise the rights thereof on Public Occasions and in Public Spaces. The legal standing of all Restricted Publics shall be determined by the City Department of Public Access.

Certain private interests may favor or disfavor certain Particular Publics in certain circumstances.

Children, for example, may be prevented from entering saloons.

Noisy people may, if their noisiness is voluntary and not discontinued after two or more courteous entreaties, be asked to leave the theater.

Clubs (including affinity associations, universities, discotheques, military units, hang-outs, churches, athletic teams, etc.) may determine their core constituencies and memberships from among relevant Particular Publics.

These Particular Publics may be defined by certain shared characteristics at the entire discretion of Clubs or the constituent members of any Particular Public.

Among these characteristics are vocation; taste; thermal preference; nationality in all cases in which it shall be a non-restrictive, fully elective, attribute; and tested capacity, including physical, intellectual, artistic, gustatory, and other non-universally shared capabilities and proclivities. These and all other Particular Publics defined by any chosen, acquired, and hereditary characteristics shall not enjoy any absolute rights of exclusion from their Clubs, neighborhoods, or other milieus of any Individuals who do not embody the characteristic descriptors or other qualities of these Particular Publics, should such Individuals wish to be included in the space or activities of any Particular Public with which they do not share key dispositive markers, inclinations, or capacities.

Although all Individuals shall enjoy the right of access to the spaces of all Particular Publics, no Particular Public acting in its collective and aggregated constitution shall have access to the spaces of another Particular Public without consent of the Particular Public with which it seeks to mix and share.

The City will, within reason, take note of all spaces erected, reserved, or utilized by Particular Publics and will, on application to the City Department of Equity by any other Particular Public that wishes to enjoy similar resources, undertake to provide substantially similar spaces that may be utilized by all of the City’s Particular Publics constituted as a single public, viz. as The General Public.

These spaces shall be designated Public Spaces and shall be fully non-exclusionary, with the universal stipulation that such non-exclusionary spaces must be fully accommodating of all constraining Involuntary Difference.

Public Spaces shall, in the main, be equal or superior in quality and availability to the spaces occupied by any Particular Public to which they are conceived as parallel or reflective.

The cost of creating and maintaining these Public Spaces shall be equitably born by all Individuals comprising the People of the City, via taxation calibrated according to means.

For purposes of this calculation and collection of taxes for the establishment, expansion, and maintenance of the City’s Public Spaces, Corporations shall be considered People too. This corporate responsibility shall not be understood to ipso facto confer any other right generally afforded to The General Public, Particular Publics, or Individuals in the City.

The nature, extent, and on-going determination of form, character, location, and uses of Public Spaces shall not be fixed save by the Full Consent of The General Public nor shall any Public Space, once established, be altered or eliminated without similar Full Consent.

Full Consent to both the creation and elimination of Public Spaces shall not be considered effective in the absence of the Full Consent of all living past and present users of the Public Space in question, as well as of all living or reasonably inferred Prospective Users of the Public Space in question. The rights of Prospective Users, including those unborn or non-resident, shall remain uninfringed upon a Declaration of Interest by any two Individuals, a Particular Public, or by The General Public.

The City will recognize the possibility of frivolous or self-interested assertions of prospective uses in the absence of parties capable of utilizing an unused Public Space within a span of twenty-five years from any assertion of use and shall, upon the application of a minimum of one dozen Individuals, submit the matter to the Court of Prospective Public Uses for adjudication.

Among the Public Spaces that the City shall provide shall be a wide variety of Open Spaces.

Open Spaces shall be freely open to all Individuals, Particular Publics, The General Public, and to the sky.

The Open Spaces of the City may, however, be subjected to reasonable restrictions on use and manner of access but shall not be subject to any restriction of Appropriate Use by time.

Appropriate Uses shall be considered all non-obnoxious, non-infringing uses.

Any restricted or obnoxious uses shall be defined by the City Department of Agriculture and Recreation, and subject to approval by the General Public and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Open Spaces shall occupy a minimum of 50% of the surface area of the earth occupied by the City’s Legal Extent and, for purposes of this calculation, shall consist entirely of an area located at the original level of the earth’s surface, prior to the establishment, construction, or Mapping of the City or any portion thereof, which shall be known as the City Grade.

Pre-existing water bodies within the territory of the City shall not, for purposes of calculation, be considered a part of the City Grade.

Pre-existing communities of flora and fauna, including human communities, shall enjoy the absolute right to remain and to flourish.

In the event that the establishment, construction, or Mapping of the City shall have a material impact on the ability of these communities to flourish within the Mapped Territory of the City, the City shall acquire a contiguous Extra-Territorial Reserve to provide a comparable or superior home for any displaced living ecologies, with the exception of any pre-existing human settlements or habitations, which shall have the right to remain in their original locations forever.

Water bodies added to the City Grade subsequent to its Mapping and Declaration shall not be considered subtractions from the area of the City Grade if they do not, in aggregate, cover more than 10% of the Mapped City Grade which shall be the limit for the addition of water bodies to Public Open Spaces within the City.

No vehicle with a non-human source of motive power, including but not limited to animal, nuclear, internal combustion, electrical, or other sources, is permitted within any Open Space with the exception of certain emergency, service, public transit, and body-augmentation vehicles and devices permitted by the City Department of Access and Mobility. Permitted Vehicles shall be of approved non-emitting, silent, non-aggressive types, and shall conform with any applicable fair trade, labor, and manufacturing regulations as promulgated by the City Department of Equity and the City Department of Environmental Welfare.

A minimum of 65% of the City Grade, inclusive of Open Spaces, shall be planted with trees of species approved by the Department of Agriculture and Recreation, which shall maintain all trees and other fauna and flora in the City’s Public Space.

Any tree that requires replacement for any reason shall be replaced by a tree that maintains or extends the maximum extent of the umbra cast by the original tree being replaced.

The Public Right to Shade shall not be infringed.

Please curb your dog.

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March 27, 2020

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