Tag Archives: Public Space

the on-the-street political reality of CicLAvia…it’s totally nice

Some of you might know of CicLAvia, LA’s biannual celebration of bikes, feet, skateboards, roller skates, roller blades…anything non-motorized, really. We and many of the world’s cities have Bogotá, Colombia to thank for originating the Ciclovia concept of shutting down city streets to car traffic for real, street-level participation, and straight-up giddy physical engagement with our built environments. The streets are packed and yet the people are smiling.

Angelenos have CARS (Community Arts Resources) for its wildly successful adoption, as well as galvanizing multiple, much needed, bike lane designations throughout the city. If you needed proof of political buy-in, please cast your eyes upon this picture of the tracings of a photo-op. Yes, we were just in front of City Hall, and yes, that is a bike lane. Meta.

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Varnelis, K. and Friedberg, A. (2008). Place: The Networking of Public Space.In _Networked Publics_, K. Varnelis, ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Anne Friedberg, PhD, Cinema Studies from NYU, was Chair of the Critical Studies Division in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC and President-elect of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. She was instrumental in creating the Visual Studies Graduate Certificate and the Media Arts and Practice PhD program. In 2009, she was named an Academy Scholar by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Varnelis and Friedberg explain the spatiality of the Net: a quotidian superimposition of authentic and virtual spaces, the formation of a movable sense of place, the rise of popular virtual dimensions, emergence of the network as a socio-spatial model, and expanding mapping and tracking technologies. All of them are not solely technical but “thoroughly imbricated in culture, society, and politics” (15). This isn’t a normative good — there are tensions. “With connection there is also disconnection, and networks can consolidate power in the very act of dispersing it” (15).

“Place, it seems, is far from a source of stability in our lives, bur rather, once again, is in a process of a deep and contested transformation” (39).

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Miles, M. (1997). The City (Ch.1), The Contradictions of Public Art (Ch.4), and Art in Urban Development (Ch.5). In _Art, Space, and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures_. London: Routledge.

Malcolm Miles, PhD, Architecture from Oxford Brookes University, is Professor at Plymouth University’s School of Architecture, Design and Environment. He chairs the Culture-Theory-Space research group and researches the intersection of critical theory, contemporary visual culture, and urbanism.

Miles here aims to undo the nostalgic view of public art, particularly transhistorical modern art, which, rejecting context, helps to “project a compensatory fantasy of the present which abolishes conflict” (88), including — especially — those of race, gender, and class. Genuine public art should reflect that there are numerous discrete publics, and that the public realm evokes more than urban sites.

“The reconfiguration of a city introduces, in treating its existing fabric as a contourless ground on which to inscribe a new design, the possibility of a radical break with history…. perhaps the urge for a new city derives from a desire to purge the unclean, abolishing the mess and complexities of the past” (23).

He levels, following Zukin (1995) and Deutsche (1991), an attack against using art for redevelopment purposes, particularly the prosperous 80s. The essential question, linking art, urban policy, and the predictable gentrification is, Who controls the process? Miles holds that Percent for Art projects ignore the difference between “urban development” and “urban regeneration.” The latter evokes something more sustainable and strives for social justice. The former, by contrast, too often means capitulating to developer interests. Saskia Sassen (1996) worries about cultural districts/centers because reflect middle-class interests and flatten difference. Yet, per Sassen, “A large city is a space of difference” (as cited on 118). Again, whose public art is this? Who’s in control? Because even though they’re agents of gentrification, it’s rarely the artists who feel empowered on their way out.

“Developers do not develop in order to construct the ‘city beautiful,’ they construct the city beautiful in order to conceal the incompatibility of their development with a free society” (130).

For Miles, “art” and “public” didn’t jibe in the 19th century and they still don’t today, and he contends the art-and-architecture trope is a framework for conventional, male-dominated public art. A sculpture in a plaza isn’t necessarily any more approachable than hallowed museum galleries. Per museum director Kathy Halbreich (1984), “Public art should not be restricted to artworks placed in public plazas but should encompass relationships and dialogues between artists and the public” (as cited on 94). But, per feminist art historian Arlene Raven (1989), “the new public-spirited art can…critique…the uneasy relationship among artworks, the public domain, and the public” (as cited on 100). (Thus, harking Helguera (2011), the community member’s input is key.)

Finally, Miles quotes Suzanne Lacy’s (1995) Mapping the Terrain proposal for new, socially active modes of art practice.

“An alternative history of today’s public art could read through the development of various vanguard groups, such as feminist, ethnic, Marxist, and media artists and other activities. They have a common interest in leftist politics, social activism, redefined audiences, relevance for communities (particularly marginalized ones), and collaborative methodology” (as cited on 101).

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Gibbs, M. (2004). Locative Media. _Art Monthly_, 40:280.

Michael Gibbs is an Amsterdam-based artist, critic, and regular contributor to Art Monthly.

In this article about locative media, Gibbs explains the contemporary social context encouraged by mobile telephony:

“With the advent of mobile phones, space has become translocal. The boundary between public and private space is effaced as, oblivious to our surroundings, we now have private conversations in public. In fact, it no longer matters where one is, as long as one is connected” (280).

Media artists have long been drawn to the public realm because it’s genuinely site-specific — context is all. Locative media, operating on mobile software, frees artists from traditional infrastructural concerns about screens, projections, sounds, etc. More important, though, are its psychogeographic philosophical underpinnings, as well as its unprecedented (and necessarily collaborative and social) engagement with public space via “Cellspace.”

Locative media is “being vigorously pursued and promoted as the latest form of artistic intervention in public space” (280).

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Deutsche, R. (1998). _Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

In this book, Deutsche looks at “cities, parks, institutions, exhibitions, artworks, disciplines, identities” (xi) and “the less visible and the therefore more pressing struggles that…produce and maintain all spaces” (ibid). She names this exploration the “urban-aesthetic”/”spatial-cultural” field, and divides the book into three sections. (All chapters with the exception of “Agoraphobia,” an examination into the various public spheres, were published in the decade prior to 1998).

“…beauty and utility: weapons of redevelopment” (49).

The first, “The Social Production of Space,” maintains the dominant urban-aesthetic discourse obfuscates the city’s use of art to legitimize urban redevelopment. She upholds Lefebvre’s (1991) “appropriation of space,” as well as his characterization of capitalist space as “abstract” since it’s “pulverized,” hierarchical, fragmented by/for commodification, and made homogeneous for easy use/exchange. She affirms that late-capitalism urbanism, with its emphasis on property and exclusion for others’ comfort, shunts to the side those residents no longer useful in the city’s economy (see Castells, 1998; Smith, 1996; Zukin, 1989, 1995, 2010). Deutsche wants a counterpractice to this valorization of public art (which can be monumental, functional, ephemeral, digital) for its “usefulness” (64).

The second part, “Men in Space,” engages with the neo-Marxist geography discourse for forgetting gender altogether. Soja’s (1989) Postmodern Geographies, Harvey’s (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity, and even Davis’s (1990) City of Quartz, despite his using the noir trope, are utterly absent women. In “Boys Town” (1990), Deutsche corrects Harvey’s several mistakes/confusions, particularly his assertion there “is always a politics of representation” (230).

The third, “Public Space and Democracy,” interrogates exactly what is it we mean when we say “public,” and asserts that site-specificity should in fact be a critique of modern art. It is not autonomous, never undocked from arts, social, economic, and political operations. She argues that had Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981) defenders moved past artist/work hagiography and instead demanded actual dialogue about democracy, they might have gotten further. Further, claiming art is transhistorical neutralizes the shift in contemporary art. “Urban space is the space of conflict” (278). There is no absolute social foundation, and the premise that there is one unitary concept of urban space is a conservative one (e.g. notion of appropriateness). When someone has the right to name, they assume the rights of property.

“Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are the conditions of its existence” (289).

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Deutsche, R. (1998). The Question of ‘Public Space. American Photography Institute National Graduate Seminar, New York, The Photography Institute.

In this lecture, Deutsche asserts that questions about public space are questions about democracy, itself an “embattled concept” (2). The rhetoric around public space has led to profoundly undemocratic policies, including private space, “state coercion and censorship, surveillance, economic privatization, the repression of differences, and attacks on the rights of the most expendable members of society, on the rights of strangers and on the very idea of rights” (2).

She notes two steps by which public space is made authoritarian: (1) Call it a park and give it meaning dictated by its function, then (2) claim the namer has governing authority (see Friends of Jackson Park). She also insists we are too narrow in our conception of “public” and so avoids using the term “public art” altogether. We should be blurring the boundary between the two, not darkening the line. For example, just because a museum has gallery spaces does not make it socially isolated.

Deutsche is interested in public art because it constitutes an art located in a universally accessible location and because of the topic of public art is, on its own, a political site. However, in the absence of critical analysis and discourse, public art can be produced with and for elite interests.

“I fully support the deployment, or re-deployment, of visual objects to, as Acconci writes, ‘break’ spaces that have been ordained as public or ‘make’ public spaces in which the foundations of social unity and of power can be questioned” (10).

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Deutsche, R. (1992). Art and Public Space: Questions of Democracy. _Social Text_, 33:34-53.

Rosalyn Deutsche, PhD, Art History from CUNY, is an art historian and critic who teaches modern and contemporary art at Barnard College and Columbia University. She has written on interdisciplinary topics such as art and urbanism, art and the public sphere, and feminist theories of subjectivity in representation. She teaches courses in modern and contemporary art, feminist theory, and urban theory.

Starting with the story of Friends of Jackson Park, who sought to close out “their” (scare quotes intentional) neighborhood park at the night to the homeless, and thus dispossessing them of their “right to have rights” (Arendt), Deutsche avers that public space shows the cracks in a totalitarian system. It’s where “people declare rights and which, paradoxically, is constituted through the declaration” (51). As such, one cannot discuss art in the public realm without talking also about democracy. The need to do so is all the more pressing since public art often articulates the conservative, status quo objectives of the elite, imbuing major redevelopment projects with legitimacy by virtue of their art-ness.

However, if we infuse the notion of the public sphere into public art, we are no longer limited to thinking just about physical public spaces. We can instead think of public art as “a practice that constitutes a public by engaging people in a political debate” (39). Artists can recoup the public purpose of art by resituating “public” in their practice. They do this by: (1) returning to creating actual art, not the developer’s precious, pseudo public art for privately owned public spaces, and (2) exploring “public, rather than the private nature of meaning and subjectivity” (41) of the 70s and 80s.

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Zukin, S. (1995). _The Cultures of Cities_. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Here Zukin has compiled a book of essay about the rise of the symbolic economy, brought on by the concurrent decline of cities and expansion of abstract financial speculation, and the themes we must consider when discussing cities: the use of culture as an economic base, the articulation of culture to privatize and militarize public space, and how the power of culture is related to the aestheticization of fear.

The five essay chapters include: (1) “Learning from Disney World,” which details the multinational’s symbolic economy and its oft-copied visual strategies of coherence, tableaux, compression, condensation, invisibility, and facades. (2) “A Museum in the Berkshires,” which explores economic cultural strategies in historic, post-Fordist districts and the inherent contradictions. (3) “High Culture and Wild Commerce in New York City,” which covers several initiatives since the mid-50s’ decision to make New York a cultural destination and the city’s qualified dedication to the arts, often breaking down over issues of land, labor, and capital. (4) “Artists and Immigrants in New York City Restaurants,” a seminar-derived piece exploring both how restaurants are themselves cultural sites, as well as the rigidities of ethnic and social divisions of labor. (5) “While the City Shops,” a departure from the traditional postmodern critique of the consumerist economy and an investigation into how the shopping street is a site for overcoming alienation and building community. In “Remembering Walter Benjamin” (253), Zukin affirms, “shopping streets lead us toward a material analysis of cultural forms” (254), that they are linked not just to globalization, but to immigration, recession, continual adaptation, and reuse of the built environment for retail shopping.

Zukin ends the book reminding the reading there is no one transcendent culture, but that cities do share the symbolic economy, therefore, we must ask whose representation of whose culture is being enshrined in which institutions when cultural strategies are formed.

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Mitchell, D. (1995). The End of Public Space? People’s Park, Definitions of the Public, and Democracy. _Annals of The Association of American Geographers_, 85(1): 108-133.

Don Mitchell, PhD Geography, Rutgers University, is Distinguished Professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. His specialties comprise: cultural, urban, and historical geography, public space, landscape, labor, social theory, and Marxism. His publications are grouped thusly: on landscape and laborers; on public space, radical politics and marginalized peoples; on culture, geography, and general trouble making. He approaches these three areas of study through a broadly Marxist, and certainly radical and materialist, framework, starting from the position that scholarship and political commitment cannot be divorced.

Mitchell recounts the controversial decision for UC Berkeley leadership to partner in 1989 with the City of Berkeley to wrest the People’s Park from its marginalized users and turn control over to middle-class and student interests, who believe the conservative argument that in order for public spaces to work, they must be safe, orderly. From the 60s through 80s, Cal students became increasingly conservative, actively avoiding the space, though one official admitted the park was no more dangerous than anywhere else. It was just a matter of perception.

“Activists see places like the Park as spaces for representation. By taking place, social movements represent themselves to larger audiences” (125).

Following Lefebvre’s (1991) two visions of public space, Mitchell argues this is a battle between the City’s desired the park’s representations of space — planned, controlled, orderly — and the park’s experienced representational space — appropriated, lived-in, used for and by the homeless. Without this park and like public spaces, these and all similarly affected homeless struggle and fail to “represent themselves as a legitimate part of ‘the public'” (115). Theirs is a “double-bind” (118) in that they are at once too visible and too defenseless against the interests of late capitalism.

Bringing Fraser’s (1992) subaltern counterpublics to earth, Mitchell avers public space “constitutes an actual site, a place, a ground within and from which political activity flows” (117). In the contemporary city, meanwhile, privatization has been prioritized, evoking Sorkin’s (1992) “disneyfication” of the United States. Boyer (1992) proposes that even diversity in a public space is often artifice: “territorial segregation created through expression of social difference has increasingly been replaced by a celebration of constrained diversity” (120).

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Kohn, M. (2004). Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space. New York: Routledge.

Margaret Kohn, PhD in Political Science from Cornell University, is Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Political Science. Her interests are the history of political thought, critical theory, colonialism, and urbanism. She is the author of Radical Space: Building the House of the People and Brave New Neighborhoods. Her new book Political Theories of Decolonization (with Keally McBride) was recently published by Oxford University Press.

Kohn discusses the impact of the proliferation of restrictions and privatization of public space in the United States. She says that while some say we need more civility (read, no homeless) in our public spaces, she advocates for diverse, heterogeneous actions, even civil unrest. Simply, the loss of public space is bad for democratic politics.

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Francis, M. (1989). Control as a Dimension of Public-Space Quality. In _Public Places and Spaces_, I. Altman & E.H. Zube, eds. New York: Plenum Press.

Mark Francis, FASLA, FCELA, FIFUD, is Professor Emeritus, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design at UC Davis. He’s studied landscape architecture and urban design at Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, and is a founding partner of CoDesign/MIG. His work is at the nexus of landscape architecture, environmental psychology, geography, art, and urban design, where he examines natural and built landscapes’ design and meaning. He’s written over 70 articles and book chapters and at least six books.

In this chapter, Francis argues there are “participatory landscapes” claimed through emotions and behaviors. In terms of public space, Francis thinks about: the tensions between the public requirements and private agendas, public space’s growing function as home for the homeless, and how the control affects the perception of safety. Writing in 1989, Francis saw the then-increasing popularity of festival marketplaces and malls as testament to the public’s desire for more public spaces. However, Francis says, “Americans still do not yet know how to use public space” (149), and points to our collective misunderstanding of the Italian piazza. In order for it to work, you can’t shut it down at night. This matter of shutting down, of course, is a control/power question, and the people’s right to control the spaces which they inhabit is an “important yet poorly understood dimension” (147).

In 1986 Zube asked, “Who is public space for?” and distinguished among three groups: professionals, such as developers and policy makers; the “interested public,” who have more ownership, are included in the planning; and the”general public,” who have no design control. Francis gets more granular, identifying: users, those who use public space but aren’t asked; nonusers, those who don’t use parks because they lack visual or physical access; space managers and owners, the “powerful and influential space group” (152); public officials, and designers. For Francis, the extent to which spaces are designed through participatory process directs how successful that space will be. Some participation is tokenistic, of course, but when participation is done well, users’ sense of ownership will translate to healthy stewardship.

We now evaluate good public spaces in terms of their ability to convey “human connectedness” (at varying scales) and design involvement. Per Hester (1985), the more design involvement, the greater the later use. And per Lynch (1981), user satisfaction hinges on perceived control. Regarding control as a psychological construct, Altman (1975) enumerates are three types of territories that “differ on dimensions of duration of occupancy and psychological centrality” (157): (1) primary territories (e.g., homes, bedrooms, etc.); (2) secondary territories (e.g. bars, community parks), which are open to more but regulars do have the most control; and (3) public territories (e.g. bus seats, restaurants), which are open to anyone for short durations.

In his Theory of Good City Form (1981), Lynch proposes five dimensions of spatial control: presence, use and action, appropriation, modification, disposition. These give rise to a working definition of control of public places: “Control is the ability of individual or group to gain access to, utilize, gain ownership over, and attach meaning to a place” (158). Control can be individual or group, real or perceived, but it’s certainly correlated with self-esteem and gratification. A place must be seen as safe to be used, but true public spaces allow for conflict — democracy is a tension.

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Crow, D. (1993). _Philosophical Streets: New Approaches to Urbanism_. Washington D.C.: Maisonneuve Press.

Dennis Crow, AICP, received his BA, MS, and PhD in Public Administration and Urban Planning all from UT, Austin. He also did post-doctoral work at Dartmouth in interpretive methods and architecture; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in history, social theory, and cultural significance of space and place in philosophy and literature, and UC Irvine in philosophy and literary criticism. At the time of publication, Crow was working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is currently information architect at USDA Farm Service Agency.

This book is a challenge to both architects and planners to reevaluate their positions on the relationship between planning, theory, and the contemporary humanities, as well as provoke humanities scholars to critique their home cities/regions. Space is not a place, but “the relationships among places” (17). The “political implication of philosophical streets is that engagement for use and resistance of street-level bureaucracy is more important than ever to the life of theory and the practice of social change” (21).

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Crawford, M. (1995). Contesting the Public Realm: Struggles Over Public Space in Los Angeles. _Journal of Architectural Education_, 49(1): 4-9.

Margaret Crawford, PhD Urban Planning from UCLA, is Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Her research focuses on the evolution, uses, and meanings of urban space. She is known for her work on Everyday Urbanism, a concept that promotes the quotidian as the basis for urban theory and design.

Following Fraser’s (1992) “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Crawford argues we’re not seeing an end to public space. Rather, our conceptions of public space and the agents who constitute them need to change. Here, the two populations most designed against are street vendors and the homeless. The splintering of democracy and attendant contests/tensions provides us with opportunities. Counterpublics comprise women, immigrants, workers, and they demand their rights outside the Habermasian public sphere. They blur the lines between private and public in their modes because they adopt unconventional practices, including acts of civil disobedience, in concert with the accepted legislative processes.

And following Holston’s (1996) “Spaces of Insurgent Citizenship,” these democratic uprisings take place in public arenas, whether Sorkin, Davis,  et al. choose to recognize it. Counterpublics affirm their is not one place that can adequately convey an inclusive, democratic space. This is because “public spaces are constantly changing, as users reorganize and reinterpret public space. Unlike normative spaces, which simply reproduce the existing ideology, these spaces, often sites of struggle, help to overturn it” (5). In the civil unrest of 1992 and in the time hence, marginalized groups have reclaimed the streets, sidewalks, and vacant spaces for their purposes, democratic, economic, and participatory. While no one calls them public space in full, their actions “reveal an alternate logic of public life” (6).

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Banerjee, T. & Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (2011). Suspicion, Surveillance, and Safety: A New Imperative for Public Space? In Planning for/with People: Looking Bank for the Future Conference.

Tridib Banerjee, PhD Urban Studies and Planning, MIT, is the James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, USC. His research, teaching, and writing focus on the design and planning of the built environment and the related human and social consequences. He is particularly interested in the political economy of urban development, and the effects of globalization in the transformation of the urban form and urbanism from a comparative international perspective.

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, PhD Urban and Regional Planning from USC, is Professor of Urban Planning, Associate Dean of the School of Public Affairs at UCLA. She focuses on the public environment of the city, its physical representation, aesthetics, social meaning and impact of the urban resident. Foundational to work is the “user focus” theme.

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Anderson, E. (2011). _The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life_. W.W. Norton and Company.

Elijah Anderson, PhD Sociology, Northwestern University (his mentor was Howard S. Becker), is William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University. He teaches and directs the Urban Ethnography Project, and is one of the nation’s leading ethnographers and cultural theorists. In addition to The Cosmopolitan Canopy, his books include Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (1999), Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community (1990), and the classic A Place on the Corner (1978).

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