New Public Spaces [DEMOS on flickr]
Demos [their blog] have a new face on flickr and are, apparently, interested in finding new public spaces – where are they, what are they and why are they ‘public’? Richard Sennett in the "Fall of Public Man", analysed the changing nature of public and private behaviour and how this was and is constituted through different spaces. But where the coffee house was once such a bastion for [male] coming together what do we have now? Where are our public spaces now? I use the local park, Priory Park but only because I have kids – it is here where I’ll talk to ‘strangers’ and pass the time of day.
Public Space seems to me to be increasingly ephemeral – springing up when groups of people come together for periods of time – like bus stops, evening classes. They are defined by their function [in time and space] rather than abstract spaces themselves. In the summer one of the most popular public spaces in central London is St. Paul’s churchyard in Covent Garden where everyone, or so it seems, congregates to have their lunch al fresco. Few of the diners seem to be overtly Christian to their fellow men [sic]. Other examples of this ephemeral kind of public space? I used to pass a pub on the way to Brighton which invariably had a mass of bikers meeting up for a ride – they took over that space briefly. Carnivals, marches [on the roads of London and in Trafalgar Sqaure around the anti-Bush demo and the anti-War demos as well as the Liberty and Livelihood march], free clubs, airport lounges have all demonstrated the potential to a greater or lesser extent.
The use of Public Space also seems to play out very differently between cultures. Green Lanes in London has a large Greek and Turkish Cypriot community who [again, mainly the menfolk] inhabit the kebab houses late into the night. The same is true of the area around Finsbury Park, where the predominantly Muslim community congregate into the evening, chatting. When in Lisbon I was struck by how the older generation [again, the men – there’s a pattern developing here] hung out in the wide streets on the benches. Now, modern urban British culture just doesn’t condone this. It’s just not the done thing. Aspects of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003 embody this attitude that any form of coming together in Public Space is inherently dodgy. They seem to say, "What are you doing, haven’t you got homes to go to?" You should be Private not Public.
In an age where traditional community relationships are breaking down what does Public Space mean? Where are people really coming together? Are all productive, discursive, Public Spaces migrating online?