Dave Reid

Tahrir Square

By - Feb 25th, 2011 09:46 am
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Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square – Photo by flickr user monasosh

We all watched as Egyptians rose up to overthrow a dictator, and take back their country.  Some, myself included, have called what we saw in Egypt the Facebook Revolution, and even Secretary Clinton suggested that the Internet is the new ‘public square’.  But even on the days when the government shut down the Internet and cell phone access, protestors inherently knew where to gather.  In Tahrir Square.  In liberation square.

They knew this because a public square is a place to organize, to be seen and heard.  It can act as a focal point,  a place of community, sometimes even a place of revolution, and a place where real life social networking can occur.  In the U.S. the role of public squares and public places for political rallies has continued to be important to this day.  As we have between the recent events in Madison, WI, and 2010 Tea Party rallies, these rallies are held in public squares and community parks.

Former Mayor John Norquist often pointed out, that when there is a big game they don’t show Bluemound Road, they show the skyline of the city.  They do this because place matters.  And when stuff happens, albeit political rallies, uprisings, or even community events as mundane as festivals or concerts happen, not too often does the parking lot of a Mayfair Mall suffice, a public square or park is preferred.

Chicago has its Millennium Park, New York City has Central Park, London has Trafalgar Square, Amsterdam has Dam Square, and Seattle and Portland both have Pioneer Square.  In Milwaukee it isn’t quite clear.

Now I’m not writing about Milwaukee’s need for a place to start a revolution, certainly not, but what is Milwaukee’s great central gathering place?   Some could argue that the design would have suggested that MacArthur Square was our civic space, to some extent Cathedral Square has become a central square for many of our residents, and our lakefront is often utilized for many events.  So I ask do we have a great public place, if so, where is it?

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5 thoughts on “Tahrir Square”

  1. Dave Steele says:

    Yesterday evening during rush hour Milwaukee saw its largest protest yet against Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. It happened at the corner of Water and Wisconsin, which seems like the most logical place for maximum visibility, since it’s the intersection of Downtown’s two most important streets. It feels like the heart of the city.

    The only reason I was aware of this protest is because I happen to take the bus every evening from Water and Wisconsin. There were a few hundred protesters there, obviously a tiny fraction of the numbers that have showed up at the State Capitol in Madison. The protesters took the four corners of the intersection, eliciting a cacophany of horn honks from passing motorists. It had more of the feel of a scrappy street demonstration than a mass movement like you see at the Capitol Square.

    There really is no “central square” in Milwaukee that is comparable to the Capitol Square in Madison. Cathedral Square is a little removed from the center of the action, as is MacArthur Square and Veterans Park.

    This gives the big protests that occur in Milwaukee (most notably the immigration rallies that took place a few years ago) more of the feel of a march rather than a demonstration.

  2. Alex says:

    Often rallies and protests are held in front of government buildings to send a message to those in power.

    How is the square in front of the Court House?

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Alex Well that’s MacArthur Square. And clearly it was designed to be a focal point of the city, but has long since lost being any sort of center for the community.. Maybe that could be fixed…hmm

  4. Alex says:

    Sorry, I should have googled that one before posting.

    It seems like a problem with MacArthur Square, besides the physical distance from the city center mentioned by Dave Steele, is the grade separation. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious route to the square from any of the major streets nearby. If you have to go out of your way to reach the square, it is not going to be a natural gathering point, since there will be too little traffic for serenidipitous meetings.

    If you could connect it better with the north and the east, you may get more traffic, but the residents of the giant fortress on the NE corner of the square might have a problem with that.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Alex Agreed there are elements of the design and uses that make MacArthur Square a failure as a central square….

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