Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na BatKid: The Conflation of Spaces

This. Is. Incredible.

In one of the most elaborate Make-A-Wish scenarios ever seen, the city of San Francisco has turned into Batman's Gotham City and made a 5-year-old cancer patient into a superhero. (PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press)

In one of the most elaborate Make-A-Wish scenarios ever seen, the city of San Francisco has turned into Batman’s Gotham City and made a 5-year-old cancer patient into a superhero. (PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press)

I woke up from a nap about two hours ago and, while catching up to life on Twitter, I came across this gem. Today, San Francisco turned itself into the famed Gotham City. Why? For a 5 year old boy battling leukemia named Miles. In the latest undertaking by the Make-A-Wish foundation, the city enlisted the services of thousands of volunteers including local police, city officials and even the media, to assist in making a little boy’s dream of being a superhero come true. Miles, excuse me, ‘BatKid’ has been going around the city in his very own Batmobile, a transformed Lamborghini, I might add, executing heroic deeds which included battles with some of his most dastardly nemeses, The Penguin and The Riddler, and saving a number of damsels from distress! BatKid even received the key to the city from the mayor’s office! (For a detailed account of BatKid’s exploits, click here)

The sheer magnitude of this effort is just unbelievable. Everyone has pitched in to make this kid’s day! Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have gathered in the streets just to watch BatKid do his thing and millions more have tuned in across the country and the world. Social media is buzzing with millions of people tweeting and retweeting  via #SFBatKid. Even the President of the United States has joined in this movement!

At first glance, most people, if not all, marvel at the good that remains in humanity and the ability of people to engage in utterly selfless acts. The fact that an entire city could come together and transform itself into a fictional wonderland just to make life a little better for a child fighting a very real battle is all things wonderful and beautiful. As an aspiring urban planner, however, I can’t help but think of this story in another way. If you will indulge me…

Last week, I facilitated a session in my Urban History & Theory class. The title of this particular discussion was “Planning in the City of Difference” and we talked about the spatial differences that different bodies make. As planners, we find ourselves in a quandary when tasked with the challenge of planning cities for a variety of “bodies” that represent multiple facets of our society. In my session, I brought forth examples that dealt with cultural diversity and ethnic neighborhoods and how they define space, persons with disabilities and their interaction with space, or the lack thereof, and even prostitutes and their right and access to space and how issues of values or morality factor into planning decisions and practices. Essentially, our definitions and perceptions of “public” and “space” are being challenged, which may not necessarily be a bad thing. As you can see, this is no small task. This is the world of planning.

In the story of BatKid, there’s the obvious and superficial re-interpretation of space as seen in an entire city transforming itself. Streets have been cordoned off, entire blocks have been shut down and the physical, urban environment of San Francisco, and how people move through and access it, has been altered. However, I’d like to bring to your attention the conflation of spaces that may not be visible to the naked eye.

Miles’ space, at this time, is primarily his hospital room, or his home, wherever he receives treatment for what ails him. This space is where people are working around the clock to restore him physically, physiologically, psychologically, mentally, spiritually, etc. This space is where he’s being rehabilitated. What’s beautiful about this story is that the space of an entire city is now being conflated with Miles’ hospital room. In other words, all of San Francisco, if only for a time, is now a place where Miles is receiving treatment! Thousands of people are now his attending physicians, his nurses, his family members and his friends doing any and all things to help him get better. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps…

Additionally, and just as profound, individual spaces are being conflated as well. While Miles undergoes his treatment, he is in his own world: there is a disconnect between him and the people of San Francisco. I would imagine that a majority of people did not know Miles prior to today’s events. However, as a result of BatKid, the people of San Francisco have entered into Miles’ life and he in theirs. They have suspended their activities, if only for a time, and have made Miles’ space their space, and vice versa. His battle with cancer is now a battle that not only San Francisco is fighting, but all of America and beyond! Due to globalization and the speed of information, this story has extended past the geographical borders of America and has touched the hearts of millions worldwide.

“Space” is a very fluid concept and it’s not just limited to the built environment and what can been seen and touched. It is no longer bound exclusively by walls, ceilings or by red lines on a map. Technology continues to redefine our notions of “space” as it connects us with different parts of the globe like never before. More importantly, people are redefining “space” as previous biases, stereotypes and intolerances are beginning to dissipate and love and acceptance take their place. How, then, are planners to respond? Could the story of BatKid have happened in any city? Should it be the goal of planners to build a world where ‘BatKid’ can happen ANYWHERE?

“Space” IS the final frontier, as the great James Tiberius Kirk once said.

One of the many daring deeds of 'BatKid' that took place today in San Francisco, CA. (Photo Credit: Mike Pelton)

One of the many daring deeds of ‘BatKid’ that took place today in San Francisco, CA. PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Pelton)

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