In recent weeks, months and years we’ve witnessed intense activity in the streets and squares of different cities: Hong Kong, Santiago de Chile, Barcelona, Belgrade, etc. The reasons vary. Some demonstrations are multitudinous and peaceful, others end in violence and in the destruction of urban furniture. Public space is the only place where collective criticism and discontent can be publicly expressed. It’s where different conflicts stemming essentially from political, economic, racial, cultural or gender differences are revealed. In extreme cases, public space has even been the scene of violence with mortal victims.
The idealised vision of public space as a setting for social interaction, where people walk, consume and relax, is continuously distorted by images of homeless people, street vendors, surveillance cameras, and security personnel. These too bear witness to different conflicts afflicting the modern world, low intensity but long-term conflicts that sometimes have a more violent impact than rowdy mass demonstrations. The increasing regulation of public space, visible in the growing presence of surveillance systems, rules of civic behaviour and penalty fines, attests to its privatisation–a consequence, according to Richard Sennett1, of its partial loss of meaning in present-day society. Some of the control methods employed even verge on totalitarian dystopia2, creating good or bad, law-abiding or rebellious citizens.
The decline in public activity and the self-absorption exacerbated by communications technologies and the social media threaten to turn public space into a mere transit zone-where people no longer meet, a showcase–with no interaction, or a place of unilateral exchange. The public dimension of enclosed spaces like shopping malls, passageways or markets often merges into the public space of adjacent streets and squares, in the process turning them into predominantly private, commercial zones. Despite its evident benefits3, the pedestrianisation of historic city centres also leads to their commercialisation, inevitably alienating part of the citizenry. Economic and speculative interests are often prioritised over basic needs. These processes seem to indicate that public space is perceived increasingly less as a common, shared asset, a space that needs to be looked after and the quality of which directly influences the quality of urban life.
The future of our cities requires the rethinking of public space and an awareness that the social conflicts manifested in public squares should be collectively resolved, and ideally prevented, in other negotiating and decision-making forums. Public space should accommodate the diversity of needs. It should be a safe, meaningful place with which citizens can identify and which at the same time represents the civic, democratic qualityof contemporary society4.
Cover Image: Banksy, Brooklyn, New York, 2018.
Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página
Richard Sennett: “The Fall of Public Man”. Knopf, New York, 1977.
Arquitecta por la universidad de Belgrado (1998) y Doctora por la UPC de Barcelona (2006) con la tesis sobe representación e ideología en la obra arquitectónica.
Ha co-comisariado con Jaume Prat e Isaki Lacuesta el pabellón Catalán en la XV Bienal de Venecia, en la edición anterior participo en el pabellón de Corea ganador del León de Oro. Ha investigado la modernidad arquitectónica del mundo socialista, escrito y dado conferencias en diversas universidades europeas. Colabora con el departamento de Historia contemporánea de la UAB y es miembro del comité científico del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público.
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