Protest Urbanism and the Art of Misdirection

Thousands of people descended on San Francisco’s SoMa and Mission Bay neighborhoods today to protest against/for China/Tibet, see the Olympic torch, skip work, or just plain people watch. 3 of those 4 groups weren’t disappointed. The torch route was announced earlier this week, with the caveat that it may “slightly” change. Well, as you can see in the above map, the route more than “slightly” changed due to the fear of another London or Paris-like protest. In the above map, blue is the announced route and red is the ACTUAL route. The air was thick with anticipation, tension, and excitement as everyone gathered to gawk at or attempt to extinguish the Olympic torch. However, unbeknownst to many of the patient observers and impatient protests, it had long passed-by in a boat or a bus or a secret underground tunnel. Cadres of riot police contributed to the misdirection and either encouraged people to stay put or herded them back and forth into different areas — god knows why, as the torch didn’t even come close to where anyone was waiting.

“We’re getting every barricade known to man and hauling it in from everywhere,” quote SF Mayor Gavin Newsom. Today, the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco are redirected. No one. Gets. Anywhere.

Jetskis in Mission Creek. On any other occasion, this would be completely awesome. As it stands, Giant’s stadium (and hopefully the foundations of the bridge I’m standing on) will be safe from aquatic attack, deep-sea protestors, and agitated Atlanteans.

On the other side of the bridge, cops kept forming up into different shapes. Here, their military training permits the creation of an ersatz plaza in the middle of 3rd St. It’s like there’s going to be a performance or something. Surely this is the torch route? Nope. Just defending a small portion of SF asphalt from the confused masses.

It seems like every cop in San Francisco is completely occupied with making shapes and lines in Mission Bay. There’s gotta be a crime spree going on in the opposite corner of the city.

More photos at the Life Without Buildings flickr page.

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Jimmy Stamp

Jimmy Stamp is a freelance writer, researcher, and recovering architect. He has contributed to The Guardian, Wired, Smithsonian, The Journal of Architectural Education, and many other websites and publications. His first book Pedagogy and Place: 100 Years of Architecture Education at Yale comes out in spring 2016. If you're looking for writer with a penchant for Piranesi and pop culture, or if you just want to say hi, you can find him on twitter @LifeSansBldgs or instagram or email him at

2 thoughts on “Protest Urbanism and the Art of Misdirection”

  1. What a fucking joke. If you have to hide the olympic torch route, you’ve missed the point of hosting the relay. And if hiding the route is a necessity, maybe the point of the ceremonies have been missed on a larger level…

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