Monday, June 20, 2011

Who Has Rights to Public Space?

Graffiti writers have long asserted their right to public space and, by implication, the rights of their respective communities. As this post from the New Economics Foundation makes clear, such assertions are every more important, and ever more threatened:
As news emerges that two London councils plan to charge children to play in public spaces, whilst another stridently attempts to drive out homeless people from some of London’s most visited places, has the time not come to assert our common right to the city?
The article goes on to point out that those particular cases:
... should not be dismissed as isolated cases; they are snapshots of a much larger issue. Or put differently pieces within a wider and more worrying jigsaw amounting to nothing less than the ideological, and if current trends are not arrested, material remaking of this city.
Cities the world over are re-making themselves in a ‘neoliberal’ way and thus commoditizing the city:
As a result many spaces that we could once call our own, where we could linger at our leisure and experience some of the joys of urban life, have been privatised and increasingly securitised. This in turn fragments our access to the city, limiting it to those who can pay for the privilege and those who conform to narrowly defined social norms.

This problem has been most acutely felt in the great cities of America: New York and Los Angeles being prime suspects. Here, as Sharon Zukin and Don Mitchell eloquently point out, the ability to access and enjoy once freely cherished spaces has come under the almost relentless pressure of market-driven forces, often in the guise of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) which, in a predictable desire to secure their businesses and loyal consumers (and inevitably surrounding spaces), have driven out transgressive deviants – read those less likely to ‘consume’ the city, and whose presence may deter paying customers; the homeless, ‘winos’, skateboarders, and the like.

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