This message is, in fact, a quote by sociologist Paul Jones during an interview to Mark Townsend for his interesting article published by the Guardian titled “Will privatisation of UK cities rip out their hearts?” earlier this week.
This is part of a series of articles by the Guardian on the privatisation of public spaces in the UK. Townsend’s article focused on Liverpool and its central Liverpool One private development which, obviously, resembles any other privatised development in London or elsewhere in Britain: clean, full of nice cafés, sanitised, and with its own rules when it comes to public gatherings, skating, biking, and, as they usually say, inappropriate “anti-social behaviour”.
The discussion is timing and relevant, as real public spaces are being squeezed to a few ones surrounded by a merchandised city private companies, groups and individuals assume control of large portions of urban land, dictating the kind of behaviour they expect from people “publicly” using “their” places. Then, the issue raises questions about the legitimacy of publicness in today’s city and about the rights to access, experience and share open spaces.
In the end it is, indeed, as Paul Jones stated in his interview, about asking local authorities and city makers “who has the rights to be where, when and how?”. This is the kind of question to be asked when private developers assume every citizen is a potential customer who should have their rights restricted in deciding whether to consume Cocal-Cola or Pepsi, or to go to Starbucks or Costa!
These are times when I caught myself rethinking about a concept I really never liked, Marc Augé’s famous non-place idea, which he uses to describe, very shortly, homogenised spaces in supermodernity times. Analogously, and using another quote from Townsend’s piece, Anna Minton resonates this notion of places without identity while commenting about Liverpool One:
“But then Liverpool One is not for the people of Liverpool, it’s basically a regional centre where you can drive straight into an underground car park, come out for an all-day shopping experience, head back and not even know you’ve been in Liverpool. It’s like a hermetically sealed bubble that could be anywhere in the world.”