Mitchell: The End of Public Space?

After reading Mitchell’s “Then End of Public Space,” I feel that public space in America is never free, it is always monitored or owned by someone who has power. I’ve been to many countries before and their use of public space and is quite different from ours. I feel that this article is a rude awakening because I always felt that people in America have little to no interaction with one another in public spaces compared with other countries. When I step out from the airport in Taiwan there are many things going on whereas in America it’s a open space and untouched land with “no trespassing” signs everywhere. We tend to privatize and “disneyfy” (Mitchell, 119) space in capitalist America.

Mitchell discusses two competing definitions of public space: representational space and representations of space (Mitchell, 115). Mitchell explains that representational space is a space that is used and lived in with no symbolic exclusion for people; all is invited. Representation of space is a controlled and planned wants that wants order from participants in that area. During the incident at People’s Park, the area was a representational space for the public into a controlled environment authorized by the UC-City Agreement. The struggles during this specific occasion let us see that this is a social conflict in which those with power felt that “People’s Park was a space that had to be reclaimed and redefined for “an appropriate public” suggesting that the homelessness is in a sense are “illegitimate users,” (Mitchell, 110).

I think one of the most important thing that we should keep in mind is that the issue of space and human territorial needs are timeless. It is not only the act of powerful people who can do whatever they want but a major player in the conflict was an educational institution (not to mention one of the most prestigious in the country) who wanted to advocated “proper citizenship” without considering consequences. Society respects Berkeley and their politicians, and they felt it was their duty to purge the park for people of status.
Another important points that Mitchell talks about is utilizing the media and new technology as a marketing tool to sell a commodity or a view point. Mitchell talks about the “electronic future” (Mitchell, 123) and provides examples about how it can be used for propaganda as well as to rally people with the same interests. This comes to a disadvantage to the homeless because they do not possess those high-tech electronics. Without communication devices, they are not considered “public” people. He then argues that the event that happened at People’s Park violated our democratic system. We need to learn from Mitchell that although a small issue like can occur anywhere, it is important to consider the big picture and see the symbolic meaning that can affect the whole of society.

I liked how Mitchell tied in the 1991 People’s Park incident to his view on contemporary public space today. It has not change much at all. I believe it is tied into our culture. He states that “corporate and state planners have created environments that are bided on desires for security rather than interaction,” thus creating “dead space” (Mitchell 119). His essay sympathizes with the homeless. This article reminds me of the time I watched a show on the Travel Channel called “Meet the Natives,” a show about a group of indigenous men from an island in the Pacific who never seen modern civilizations. The men visited New York City and questioned, Why are there so many homeless on the streets when there are so many buildings around? This is an issue I feel makes it unpleasant to live in America because society is built around exclusion even though we are considered a one of the most desirable countries to live in. I enjoyed reading Mitchells essay because he pinpointed why I felt a sense of warmth and welcome more in other countries than here in America. The aura is completely different and it is because with wealth and economic power comes greed and desire to maintain that power.

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