Tag Archives: Privatised public spaces

Who has the rights to be where, when and how?

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.”

Day 74: Who has the rights to be where, when and how?

Day 74: Who has the rights to be where, when and how?

Privatised and securitised public areas deny the unexpected and renounce the city!

No timelapse video from the Panopticam project today, so picture’s resolution is not great.

Obviously, this message was inspired by a phenomenon increasingly common in today’s urban world. Privatised areas with public pathways or of public interest (in some cases even previously owned by public authorities and sold or subject to concession as an agreement) have been mushrooming in medium and large cities around the world. London has been an attractive target to this kind of managerial practice for years and there are several areas of interest of the public around the city signposted as private land (see picture below).

Private property, Regent's Place (London)

Private property, Regent’s Place (London)

These places are usually carefully monitored by private security personnel and rely on a great number of (many times very visible) surveillance and security technologies. Contracts and regulation restrict the number of activities that are and are not allowed in these areas. Group gathering, skate boarders, and long stays of certain individuals are among the “most feared” occurrences, and therefore commonly prohibited. There are many articles on newspapers and journal papers about this controversial option for the viability of urban land renovation. The Guardian published many of these (here, here and here), and also tried to build a database of privatised publicly used areas in the UK. This debate is also very alive around the building permissions for a private garden bridge, to be built between Temple and the South Bank, in London. As part of the agreement, if the plan goes ahead, visitors “will be tracked by their mobile phone signals and supervised by staff with powers to take people’s names and addresses and confiscate and destroy banned items, including kites and musical instruments.”

Fear of “the other”, or fear of “the unexpected” are common motivations for flooding these areas with exaggerated security and repulsive/aggressive behaviour. Today’s message was influenced by this kind of treatment to areas of public interest, implying that this is the same as to deny public space in its essence, and therefore to renounce the city.

Day 53: Privatised and securitised public areas deny the unexpected and renounce the city!

Day 53: Privatised and securitised public areas deny the unexpected and renounce the city!