(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘public space

“[Hannah] Arendt wrote about the subjugation of public space – in effect the disappearance of public space, which, by depriving a person of boundaries and agency, rendered him profoundly lonely”*…

… and Alexandra Lange writes about an (imperfect) modern “work-around”: the way in which shopping malls won over a wide range of admirers, from teens to seniors, by providing something they couldn’t find in their dwindling public parks or on their crowded sidewalks…

… The mall, in its quiet early hours, provides affordances most cities and suburbs cannot: even, open walkways, consistent weather, bathrooms and benches. The mall is also “safe,” as Genevieve Bogdan told The New York Times in 1985; the Connecticut school nurse was “apprehensive about walking alone outdoors early in the morning before work.”

For the more vulnerable among us, malls’ privately owned and privately managed amenities offer an on- or off-ramp from the real world, sometimes literally. Skateboarders and wheelchair users both appreciate the fact that most malls were built to include ramps, escalators and elevators, or have been retrofitted to do so. At Grossmont Center, a mall in La Mesa, California, the parking lot features signs giving the step counts from your parking spot to Target, Macy’s and the movie theater. Few cities can say the same.

It isn’t only the ease of exercise that has made mall walking programs durable. On Twitter, city planner Amina Yasin praised malls as spaces that accommodate many racialized and even unhoused senior citizens, offering free and low-cost-of-entry access to air-conditioning, bathrooms and exercise, while throwing up her hands that “white urbanism decided malls are evil.” Gabrielle Peters, a writer and former member of the city of Vancouver’s Active Transportation and Policy Council, responded with her own thread on some ways malls offer better access for people with physical disabilities than city streets: dedicated transit stops, wide automatic doors, wide level passages, multiple types of seating, elevators prominently placed rather than hidden, ramps paired with stairs, public bathrooms and so on. 

The food court at the Gallery offered a relatively low-cost way to hang out after the transit trip or mall walk. While public libraries and senior centers offer free public seating, they have neither the proximity to shopping, nor the proximity to the action that a mall offers. Like teens hanging out in the atrium, the seniors in the food court can observe without penalty and be a part of community life that can be overwhelming in truly public spaces. After police officers removed elderly Korean Americans from a McDonald’s in Flushing, Queens — managers claimed the group overstayed their welcome, buying only coffee and french fries — sociologist Stacy Torres wrote in The New York Times, “Centers offer vital services, but McDonald’s offers an alternative that doesn’t segregate people from intergenerational contact. ‘I hate old people,’ one 89-year-old man told me.”

As malls closed in the spring of 2020 because of Covid-19, mall walkers across the country were forced back outside, battling weather and uneven sidewalks in their neighborhoods, missing the groups that easily formed on the neutral ground of the mall. One New Jersey couple took to walking the parking lot of the mall they once traversed inside, drawn to its spaciousness and their sense of routine. As malls reopened in the summer and fall with social-distancing and mask-wearing policies, some malls suspended their programs until the pandemic’s end, while others curtailed the hours…

Lessons From the Golden Age of the Mall Walkers,” from @LangeAlexandra in @CityLab.

* Masha Gessen

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As we ponder perambulation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that Hopalong Cassidy (starring William Boyd, who’d created and developed the role in 66 films, starting in 1935) premiered on the fledgling NBC TV network and became the first Western television series.

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“Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life”*…

 

private space

Paternoster Square, pictured here from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, is owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company

 

In general, the privatisation of public space in the west accompanied the traumatic transition from an industrial economy to one based on financial services, shopping, entertainment and “knowledge”. This model began in 1970s America, where downtown waterfront areas that were former industrial heartlands were redeveloped into entertainment complexes: Baltimore’s Inner Harbour, described by the Urban Land Institute as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment”, is the prime example.

London’s Docklands, once the hub of the UK’s shipbuilding industry, became a centre for privatised financial services districts such as Canary Wharf, gated developments and private campuses such as the Excel, the enormous conference centre where the potential to “lock down” the site ensures it is well suited to host such events as the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition.

War very often leads to heavily privatised areas, too. In downtown Beirut, the rebuilding of the city centre provided the opportunity for Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and the former prime minister, to form Solidere, a company that has remodelled a 200-hectare area of the city centre.

Jerold S Kayden at Harvard has coined the term Pops (“privately owned public space”) for these types of places, and found that there are 503 in New York City alone. One of the highest profile is Manhattan’s latest tourist attraction, the High Line, which also appears to be the model for London’s contentious Garden Bridge – an urban “park” that bans all sorts of activities, closes for corporate events, does not allow political protest and requires groups of more than eight people to book ahead.

Indeed, the key question in determining how “private” a city might be could be about access, rather than ownership. Zucotti Park, another Pops in New York, was for many months the venue for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Contrast that with London’s Paternoster Square, home to the London Stock Exchange, where Occupy was quickly evicted when the owners took out an injunction. Political activity has been almost entirely squeezed out of London’s square mile, and Occupy had no choice but to camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, on the only genuinely public space left in the city.

So while it may be impossible to name a city or a place as the “most private” in the world, what we can say is that societies with high levels of inequality are also those where the privatisation of the public realm and life behind gates increasingly defines the urban fabric. In Britain and North America, where democracy remains the system by which we define ourselves, the spread of this kind of city space is extremely problematic…

More and more parts of more and more cities are becoming the equivalent of private clubs or airport lounges: “What is the most private city in the world?

Semi-related (but altogether fascinating): “Everything we’ve heard about global urbanization turns out to be wrong.”

* Jan Gehl

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As we try not to ask about access, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that John Muir set pen to paper to capture his experience of awakening in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  Published in 1911, My First Summer in the Sierra is based on Muir’s original journals External and sketches External of his 1869 stay in the vicinity of the Yosemite Valley.  His journal, which tracks his three-and-a-half-month visit to the Yosemite region and his ascent of Mt. Hoffman and other Sierra peaks, was instrumental in building public support for President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation efforts, and for the formation of Yosemite National Park and the birth of the National Park Program.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

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