Public space: Wikis

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Urban space (Florence)

A public space refers to an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants discriminated based on background. Non-government-owned malls are examples of 'private space' with the appearance of being 'public space'.

Public space has also become something of a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geography, visual art, cultural studies, social studies and urban design. Its relevance seems to become more pressing as capital encloses more and more of what were thought of as 'commons'. The term 'Public Space' is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as 'gathering place', which is an element of the larger concept.

Contents

Definition

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Areas of usage

Central Park in New York City was designed as a democratic public space in the 19th century.

Most streets, including the pavement are considered public space, as are town squares or parks. Government buildings, such as public libraries and many other similar buildings are also public space. However, not all state-owned buildings fall under such a definition. Although not typically considered public space, privately owned buildings whose walls face sidewalks and public thoroughfares visible from our shared public spaces, affect the public visual landscape. With the rise of outdoor advertising in major metropolitan cities, these private walls are being used to affect public audiences. This problem begs a reconsideration of what might be thought of as public when addressing not only the physical, but the visual landscape of our shared public environments.

Some parks, malls, waiting rooms, etc, are closed at night. As this does not exclude any specific group, it is generally not considered a restriction on public use. Entry to public parks can be restricted based upon a user's residence.[1]

In Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland, all nature areas are considered public space, due to a law, the allemansrätten (everyone's-right).

Related rights

If Members of the public had no right whatsoever to distribute leaflets or engage in other expressive activity on government-owned property...then there would be little if any opportunity to exercise their rights of freedom of expression.

Supreme Court of Canada, defending right to poster on public utility poles and hand out leaflets in public government-owned buildings[2]

In the United States, one's presence in a public space may give him or her certain rights not otherwise vested. In a public space, known as a public forum, the government cannot usually limit one's speech beyond what is reasonable (that is, screaming epithets at passers-by can be stopped; proselytizing one's religion probably cannot). In a private—that is, non-public—forum, the government can control one's speech to a much greater degree; for instance, protesting one's objection to medicare reform will not be tolerated in the Pentagon. This is not to say that the government can control what you say in your own home or to others; it can only control government property in this way. In some cases, privately-owned property can be considered a public forum.

Social norms in public spaces

In some cultures, there is no expectation of privacy in a public space.

Eating and drinking in an outside public place during Ramadan in an Islamic country is sometimes not appreciated.

Controversy and Privatization

Leyton Marshes, London, and example of land with long established rights of access, and equally longstanding restrictions

Public space is commonly shared and created for open usage throughout the community, where as private space is individually or corporately owned. The area is built for a range of various recreation and entertainment. The physical setting is socially constructed which creates a behavior influence. Limitations are imposed in the space to prevent certain actions from occurring; public behavior that is considered to obnoxious or out of character (i.e., drug and alcohol consumption, urinating, indecent exposure, etc.) are supported by law or ordinance. Through the landscape and spacial organization of public space, the social construction is considered to be privately ruled: by the implicit and explicit rules and expectations of the space that are enforced.

Which is generally considered that everyone has a right to access and use public space, as opposed to private space which may have restrictions, there has been some academic interest in how public spaces are managed to exclude certain groups - specifically homeless[3] people and young[4] people.

Measures are taken to make the public space less attractive to them, including the removal or design of benches to restrict their use for sleeping and resting, restricting access to certain times, locking indoor/enclosed areas. Police forces are sometimes involved in moving 'unwanted' members of the public from public spaces. In fact, by not being provided suitable access, disabled people are implicitly excluded from some spaces.

Further, beginning roughly in the 1960s, the wholesale privatization of public space (especially in urban centers) has become a fact of western society, and has faced criticism from citizen groups such as the Open Spaces Society. Private-public partnerships have taken significant control of public parks and playgrounds through conservancy groups set up to manage what is considered unmanageable by public agencies. Corporate sponsorship of public leisure areas is ubiquitous, giving open space to the public in exchange for higher air rights. This facilitates the construction of taller buildings with private parks; accessible only to those deemed fit. In one of the newer incarnations of the private-public partnership, the business improvement district (BID), private organizations are allowed to tax local businesses and retail establishments so that they might provide special private services such as policing and increased surveillance, trash removal, or street renovation, all of which once fell under the control of public funds.

'Semi-public' spaces

A broader meaning of public space or place includes also places where everybody can come if they pay, like a café, train, movie theater or brothel. A shop is an example of what is intermediate between the two meanings: everybody can enter and look around without obligation to buy, but activities unrelated to the purpose of the shop are not unlimitedly permitted.

The halls and streets (including skyways) in a shopping center may be declared a public place and may be open when the shops are closed. Similarly for halls, railway platforms and waiting rooms of public transport; sometimes a travelling ticket is required. A public library is a public place. A rest stop or truck stop is a public space.

For these semi-public spaces stricter rules may apply than outside, e.g. regarding dress code, trading, begging, advertising, propaganda, riding rollerskates, skateboards, a Segway, etc.

Footnotes

References

  • 1. Illegal to be Homeless. National Coalition for the Homeless (2004).
  • 2. Maasik, Sonia, and Jack Solomon. Signs of Life in the USA Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006.
  • 3. Malone, K. "Children, Youth and Sustainable Cities". Local Environment 6 (1).
  • 4. "Conclusions of the International Seminar on the Planning of Collectively-Used Spaces in Towns", in: Monumentum (Louvain), Vol. 18-19, 1979, pp. 129-135.

See also

External links


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