Forum A

After reading Mitchell’s “The End of Public Space,” how would you define public space?  What are the competing definitions and struggles over public space that Mitchell discusses?  What do you think the most important points are from this essay that we should keep in mind as we begin to inquire into the public spaces around us?  What did Mitchell’s essay make you think about that you hadn’t really thought about before?

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5 responses to “Forum A

  1. Olivia Greig
    Forum A
    24 January 2010

    After reading Mitchell’s “The End of Public Space,” I became more observant and perceptive of how we view “public” space. A completely public space opens the doors to many diverse individuals. The word public is defined as “open to or shared by people as a whole.” This statement however is rendered when we apply police reinforcement and rules to ensure the safety and well being of the general population. I consider public space to be as it is defined, a space shared by all. If it weren’t a public space, there would be rules and regulations making the target of persons who populate the space more defined and narrow. Mitchell discusses the issue of public space in People’s Park at University of California. Homeless people and amateur drug dealers were inhabiting the park, which was considered an “open public space” to any one who wished to use its facilities. These groups of people made the rest of the public feel unsafe and weary when entering its vicinity. Freedom as a whole was questioned when the homeless were being expelled from People’s Park. If it were not a public space, it would be a space where there are regulations as to who trespasses. To be considered an absolute public space, there must not be any segregation, regulation, or control as to who is granted access. However, there are areas that are labeled “public,” in many environments that put the people who enter in danger. Not abiding by the literal term of “public,” when considering the wellbeing of the human race, it is necessary to have a form of regulation and control to avoid crime, violence, or abuse. These types of environments should be called “controlled spaces” rather than “public spaces.”

  2. After reading Mitchell’s “The End of Public Space” I believe that public space has become a very unique phrase that doesn’t necessarily have an exact definition. It seams that throughout the years public space has been broken down over and over again leaving it as just a term we throw around, without any actual meaning. The first vision of UC officials was to allow open space for recreation and entertainment in the park however only for the public that was allowed in. This kept control over the publics behavior at the park, which was a key way to keep the homeless and riffraff out. The Activists and homeless people wanted the park to be a free space without any constraint by higher officials. Overall I believe this allowed me to re-open my eyes and realize there are many different opinions and sides to one story. I never took the time to realize the struggles that could occur over a piece of land. This park was a very important area for the homeless people in this community as well as to the college students that reside there. I believe a debate such as this is extremely hard to decipher because this battle has been going on for over twenty years. The park had been sold and bought so many times and in so many different ways I feel that at this point there needs to be a more unified vision of what both UC and activists see for the park in the future. I still find it hard to think of an actual definition of public space because after reading this there are so many different ways it can be interpreted. However I didn’t like that the UC representatives never considered or referred to the park as a public space. This made me think that their argument wasn’t in the best interest of the overall community. Mitchell’s essay made me think about the lives of the homeless people in my own community and see that they too are being constricted. It also made me rethink the idea of being a citizen all together. After reading this it seams if you can’t use a public park freely where can the homeless possibly call home?

  3. On The first day of class when Laurie explained our class’s topic as “public space” I really had no idea how we could spend a semester discussing this matter; it sounded like a pretty unconventional category. In fact, I had never really considered it a matter at all and did not know where this class could be heading. Instead of closing my mind off to this issue, I decided to stay open to it and see how she presented it, as it seemed there is some thought circulating about it. Taking a look at Don Mitchell’s essay, The End of Public Space? People’s Park, Definitions of the Public, and Democracy, I found that to be true. In fact, public space is an issue that communities deal with defining and redefining.
    To me, public space is a specific area in which all are welcome at all times (regardless of the place’s location/surroundings). Ideally, everyone should feel welcome and safe in a public space. I believe my definition to be correct, but the problem is that everyone has their own definition and each person believes their definition to be true. That is one of the issues that Mitchell discussed in his essay. A public park, the People’s Park in Berkeley, California, was fought over between the people of the city and the University of California who hoped to develop the park. Because the park was a safe haven for the homeless, activists of the homeless argued that a public space is a “space marked by free interaction and the absence of coercion by powerful institutions” (115). The activists believed the University “didn’t want their students to be faced on a daily basis with what it is like to be poor and in poverty.” (113). Whereas the University of California, UC, believed a public space is a “controlled and orderly retreat where a properly behaved public might experience the spectacle of the city” (115). These opposing viewpoints accounted for the two parties’ long debate.
    From the essay, I gathered that it is important to keep in mind that public space may be owned by a certain institution or government, but to be considered a truly public space must be open for all regardless of its ownership. If the park was still a public space under UC’s ownership, it would still have been open for students, the homeless, political activists, and whoever else wanted to use the space. Also, the essay brought up a good point about public versus private space. It mentioned, “to be public implies access to the sphere of private property” (116). It got me thinking of places in my life in terms of public and private and, it raised some questions in my mind. Is a place considered public if you must pay to enter it (i.e. a theatre, amusement park, subway train, etc.)? Can a public space, such as a beach or a park, close at certain times? Can you trespass in a public space? Mitchell’s writing also brought to mind the debate in the Middle East over Jerusalem. Is Jerusalem everyone’s city or is it only Israel’s city? Does one need to formally and financially own a space, or be granted the space by a government in order to make it theirs?
    I have also realized the emotional connection people can have with public space. In the People’s Park, citizens feel free in the park because they can express themselves at the Free Speech stage, therefore see the park as a place of freedom and democracy. If UC impeded on their space, they might not feel as free in the park any more, they would no longer feel welcome in their public space (If UC demolished the stage, it would symbolize their apathy for the people’s opinions). Therefore, according to my own definition, it would no longer be a public space as all people do not feel welcome to be in the park.

  4. Mitchell’s essay about Public Space has defined a new way of examining how people and politics play a large part in makes a communal area open to everyone-where everyone has equal rights of being there-or a “public area” where there are rules and standards to live up to to be accepted. Public space to me is a communal place, space or environmental area that is shared by many have the same privileges as everyone as to where they can enter, exit or what they can do while in the area as long as they are not disturbing others with outrageous and outlandish activities. A competing discussion that Mitchell talks about is how the citizens view the public in comparison to how politics view the space. The citizens surrounding People’s Park see the park to symbolize a “stronghold in the on-going struggles between university planners and city residents” particularly with the homeless who used the park as a place to survive and live in where there was no where else to go. However, the public officials see the park and public space differently, “public space thus constituted a controlled and orderly retreat wherea properly behave public might experience the spectacle of the city”. Which also implied that they did not account for the homeless to be considered as the public, for they are not formally registered as a citizen in the city. An important point to consider would be the comparison to Tiananmen Square, as there was a similar struggle there as well with the views of how the government and the people saw the area. Also, how “electronic communication played an important role in organizing the protest” and how the Square went from “a monumental and official space ‘into a genuine place of political discourse'”. This essay make me rethink the reasons why there are so many public parks and amusement areas in the first place if the areas are not going to be open to every citizen, including the homeless? Segregating them for the “legal” citizens is surely not helping the problem especially if there is no help/alternative space being offered to them in return.

  5. The way that I would describe “public spaces” are the parks, courtyards that are apart of hotels, corporation courtyards and amusement parks even though they are a controlled environment. To me anywhere that is out in the open. Any place that is not fenced in or locked up should be open to the public.
    According to Mr. Mitchell’s reading the Greek’s started the notion of a “urban public space as an open where public affairs and legal disputes were conducted….it was also a marketplace, a place of pleasurable jostling, where citizens, bodies, words, actions, and produce were all literally material and where judgments, decisions, and bargains were made.” (para 1) The problem that they were having with public spaces was that not everyone was considered a citizen. The Greek carefully picked and decided who could be in the open public spheres. If you were a slave, a foreigner, or a woman, you were not considered a citizen and you could not be a part of the open sphere.
    One of the problems that the cities are having is the homeless. Some high-level public figures feel that the homeless people are too visible. So some public figures are privatizing the open spaces. They are closing up and kicking people out of the parks at night.
    One of the most important points that I see is finding a place for the homeless to go. Yes, there are shelters for the homeless, but there is not enough room in them for everyone. As the economy has gotten worst there are more homeless people every day. We have to help these people get back on the right track. Putting the people that have mental problems in institution is not the way to handle the homeless problem.
    One thing that I thought about Mitchell’s essay is how safe are the parks or “open spaces”. I am not talking about just the homeless people, but the crime and drug dealers that sometimes frequent these open spaces for their crimes.

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