8 August 2008

WELCOME TO ARCADIA: public space belongs to whom?

The city is the space between buildings and walls – but this space belongs to whom? To those who conquer it.

This is the first post of a new mini feature dealing with public space in cities with different attitudes.

Vito Acconci offers, out of uncountable definitions, probably the most accurate definition about what public space is - but as well one of the most pessimistic. Public space, by definition, is planned by authorities. 'What was built is a production: a spectacle, glorifying the company or the state – or both. Hence space is only borrowed to people. To people who are considered to be part of an organised society, members of the state and potential consumers'. And it's true: public space in a 'western' point of view is a playground of political and economic power: Investor architecture on grounds which are easily got prepared from city's governmental institutions. Flashy brand logos here, shopping malls there. Shopping arcades and canopies on commercially conquered open space. This space between buildings is occupied, conquered, defined, depending on the wishes of city planning. Who will win the match depends on the wishes of the local city planning. Or in an ideal case economy and inhabitants tied for first place.

But the public space are we all, not Acconci's institutions. What is lacking in over regulated cities is only the awareness of this.

One example is Spain: When the Spanish Franco-dictatorship ended in 1975, the recapturing of public space was the first action the population took – in cities as in small villages. Parc Diagonal Barcelona source

Beth Gali, a Barcelona based architect: 'People wanted to have back what was taken from them for a long time: the public sphere! The open space of the city should be understood as second home, a living room for everybody.' Spanish landscape and open space planners, probably one of the best, had enough time and enough public money to develop this challenging field in architecture to an extraordinary culture. And it works: every bit of open space is activated 24 hours. Parcours for skaters in Barcelona's city centre, the street furniture is high end design, everywhere you can use and enjoy the public space, without the need to consume a beer or a coffee.skater in front of MACBA source

upcoming posts will feature public space in Bogotá, Mumbai, Tirana. watch out!