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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7 responses to “Forum A

  1. Mitchell somewhat leans towards a certain definition of what public space is, and I tend to agree. I would define public space as an area to be out of control, restrictions, and regulations. Anyone should feel welcome at any time, and have the ability to do what they want (within the guidelines of the law of course). As stated in the essay, “Public space is an unconstrained space, in which political arenas can organize and expand (pg. 115).” I agree with this statement completely, as this is the definition I, as well as the homeless people in People’s Park feel is true.

    This definition competes with one that is almost the complete opposite; as Mitchell puts it, it is one that is full of regulation, control, and constraint. In this vision of public place, people should feel safe and comfortable, and “they should not be driven away by unsightly homeless people or unsolicited political activity.” Obviously, there is a major conflict here and one that the homeless and the city fought for during the changes that occurred to regulate People’s Park. On one side we have the homeless, who feel that public space is for them to enjoy freely and not bothered, as it is their symbol that represents being out of a job or home. It is a place to go when people need someplace in a bad time. On the other side, we have officials and authority figures regulating and dictating what is good or bad. Because crime was apparently a problem in the Park, changes were made to reduce it, regardless of it’s negative effects on the parks inhabitants.

    As we inquire into the public spaces around us, we must not turn a blind eye to those that are affected. “Benefiting” others should never be at the cost of ruining the lives of many innocent people who have no where to turn to and no where to go. The homeless are helpless; their public space represented a place for them in times of need. We must always consider everyone, regardless of their place in society, before making major changes to public spaces.

    Mitchell’s essay made me sympathize much more with the homeless than I ever had. This isn’t to say I turn a blind eye to them, but rather I was able to feel a deeper connection to their troubles and why they were so greatly upset with the changes to People’s Park. They were forced out of a space that they see to be uncontrollable and free. They should be able to roam as they please, but obviously the city and University thought otherwise. It’s sad that this happened to the people of People’s Park, and it made me think that this is happening more and more all around the country. We must pay special attention to our public spaces and preserve what is essential to a democratic society; the freedom of public spaces must remain intact. Nothing should stand in the way of this.

  2. I believe that public space is an interesting vision. I call it a vision because I do not think that public spaces have truly been created. Laurie, I like the point that was made about the government owning the public space, which I agree with, however as we all know the government doesn’t always act the way we would like them to. With that said, is it truly a public space? Because even though we elect the officials to government seats, at the end of they day they are their own person with their own agenda.
    I felt that Mitchell presented his ideas clearly and I particularly enjoyed how he analyzed public space. The historical element he brought into the article I felt gave his argument more weight especially when he described public space as “an unconstrained space, in which political arenas can organize and expand” (115). The reason is when seen as a political arena; the ties to the government’s ownership or dominance of the space are visible. Mitchell also states, “Nor has ‘the public’ always been defined expansively in America” (116). The story with the riots over the park may seem like a personal story but people have fought for or over public space many times standing up to the government. An instance being the 60’s when the civil right’s movement was evident and there were legally segregated parks. Thus, we’re told it’s a public space and although most people have similar rights, police and government officials still have an overall say of who is the public.
    Unfortunately in America, the public isn’t exactly everyone in the public and not everyone has the same rights. Mitchell talks about homeless people, and I do think that they get treated unfairly. They will get kicked out of parks with police officers claiming the park is closed. An issue with that is many parks don’t have set times for closing, for instance the park by my house states the closing time as “Park is closed in the evening”. Even if we look past closing times, homeless in Central Park are still harassed by patrolmen.
    Perhaps we don’t use the “Public Spaces” that are designated public spaces but rather as a public find a space. For instance, in Italy, there are parks and all the things we have, but throughout the city there are fountains at forks on the street where people congregate and relax.

    • You’re right to say that American society excludes many who should be considered part of the public, and it is obviously not the only society to do this. Something I failed to mention in my annotations, which is touched upon by Mitchell (116, and elsewhere), and which I think is important to consider, is that foreigners are often excluded from citizenship and thus from the polity, even those who enjoy one or another form of legal status. Perhaps we may speak of this in class today.
      David C Carrasco

      • We could take Puerto Rico as an example of this. They enjoy proper United States citizenship; however, they are not allowed to vote for the presidency, I assume due to some notion that they are foreign to the mainland. But this, as far as I know, is not true of Hawaii. Puerto Rico does have in some sense its own government, but would be, for example, subject to a draft if it ever were to occur.
        We could evaluate the Puertorican situation, and perhaps contrast it with that of Hawaii, as an exercise of discourse.
        David C Carrasco

  3. I would define public space as a place that is free to explore without regulations or restrictions. It seems that Mitchell has a similar definition. Unfortunately what he discusses in this essay does not seem to have the same definition as us. In this essay it seems that the definition of public space is something of regulation and restrictions.
    It is clears that there were problems with the park. There was a big drug problem that was flowing in an out of the park and there were many homeless people who were undoubtedly living in the park. For the homeless people this park was there home and when the authorities told them that there “home” was being destroyed for volleyball courts it set off a debate of what exactly is public space. People’s park was deemed a public place, but the authorities thought that they could privatize it. According to Duane a homeless man who lived in the park during the riots, said, “this is about homelessness and joblessness and fighting the oppression.” (Pg. 113)
    Mitchell’s essay really made me think about what is public space. It made me realize that one mans trash could be another mans treasure. That mans trash was the park that they saw could be turned into a sporting field, and the other mans treasure was that very same park, but as his home. It put into perspective that you need to think of all the consequences to your actions. Those officials didn’t think that they were destroying a person home; they just thought that they were created better facilities for the public. This story made me think that this wasn’t the only place that this happened to and that more and more people were being forced out of public areas.

  4. Just a couple comments:
    -The Park was and is a private property; so, they (City and Uni) were not trying to privatize it, the University was trying to exercise its right to do with the Park as it saw fit for its students. You could say the University was being considerate enough to include the City in its plans for the Park.
    -You say “big drug problem”. I don’t see where you got that idea, nor do I think there is any evidence in the text that supports that, other than the declarations of the University and City officials, which should be highly suspect for exaggeration.
    Perhaps we will touch upon some of this in class today.
    David C Carrasco

  5. After reading the essay I have broadened my idea of what a public space actually is. A public space is somewhere, citizens should be able to go and do or say whatever they feel. However, after reading this article I came upon the realization that a public space is an area owned by the local government, it is not owned by any kind of institution, regardless of whether this institution is a University or a corporate entity. Also, when regarding the peoples park issue, it is important to realize that people must abide by the law within a public space. A public space is not a restroom, nor is it a place where people can make love.
    I feel that the biggest question that arises in this article is whether the people’s park was a public space that was beneficial to society. The short answer is no because “People’s Park became a haven for small time drug dealers, street people, and the homeless”(Lynch 1991b;A12.) A public space is not beneficial to society if crime runs rampant within it. Mitchell tells us about positive roles of public space. The Greeks used public space as a place to exercise democracy, public spaces have often been the breading grounds for political movements, and they have been used for marketplaces. Can any of these beneficial activities really take place next too the homeless and drug addicts. Because the university acquired the land on eminent domain they are in a sense responsible for its development, and the activities that take place there. I can understand why they would want to take advantage of one of the few green spaces in an urban area, and kick the homeless out.
    One thing that Mitchell brought up was that he felt the homeless are not part of society. Mitchell writes “Although homeless people are nearly always in public, they are rarely counted as part of the public” (p.118). I would like to say that while homeless do not contribute ANYTHING to society they are unfortunately part of it. When a homeless man gets sick and goes to the hospital they do not through him out on the street, they treat him and then make taxpayers pick up the tab. Public space is not a space for the homeless, it is a space for functioning members of society.

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