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?

3 responses to “Forum A

  1. After reading Mitchell’s “The End of Public Space,” I gained a new perspective on how valuable public space really is to a society and culture as a whole. Before reading this article I never really thought about how important a park, playground, town baseball field or track is to a community. Public space really does hold value in a community culture, even if many people don’t believe it does. I would define public space as a place where people can freely express themselves, enjoy time with others, and do whatever they choose to do. Public space is a place where you can do what you choose to do without worrying about what others think. One of the issues Mitchell discusses is the battle of University of California Berkeley vs. the City over the People’s Park. Throughout Mitchell’s work there are many different competing definitions to what public space should be used for. Some believe that it should be used, “As a haven for persons evicted by the dominant society” (pg. 109). Others believed that the People’s Place mentioned in Mitchell’s work should be cleaned up and used for the use of students only. The University argued, “Had been excluded as the park became a haven for small-time drug dealers, street people and the homeless” (pg. 110). On the other hand, some people defined public space as a place where homeless people can make a name for themselves. These people stated, “Only in public spaces can the homeless legitimately define themselves as part of a society” (pg. 115). Although all these points are valid arguments I think we really need to look at what is best for the community as a whole. For example, if a public space is always full of little children playing, then there should definitely be no homeless allowed. But if not, then there can be some exceptions to the rule about if homeless people are allowed to inhabit the park. Mitchell’s essay made me think about my past experiences with public space. As a kid I enjoyed those days I went to the playground or played ball at the town field. Some questions came to my mind like, what if one day these places didn’t exist? What would people do if they didn’t have a public place to go to? How would society change as whole as a result of this? In closing, Mitchell’s work made me really appreciate what little public space still exists today. Plus it has made me a true believer that public spaces are detrimental to people, especially in big cities when space is limited. We should all take a stand on preserving public space like Boulder, Colorado has done (pg. 121). They have made the preservation of public spaces one of the most strongly supported city and county initiatives.

  2. Mitchell defines public space as “ a place of unmediated political interaction.” (pg. 125). This is one of two stances taken on the definition of public space. The opposite suggests that public space be “ a place of order, controlled recreation, and spectacle.” (pg. 125). In the case at UC Berkley, the competing sides are the “white collar” university students and officers versus the homeless. The homeless see People’s Park as a place for refuge. The homeless view it as a place where their social “illegitimacy” is negated and allows them the freedom to act as significant political contributors. City and university officials see the park as a place that should be representative of the population. That is, behaviors and activities conducted in this space are to promote a socially acceptable and controlled atmosphere. Public space has transformed over the course of time and has played a hand in crafting democratic ideologies.
    In ancient Greece, public space “function[ed] as ‘the place of citizenship, an open space 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 on mutual display, and where judgments, decisions and bargains were made.’” (pg. 116). The New Oxford American Dictionary defines democracy as “the practice or principles of social equality.” People’s Park became a place where the homeless, as well as anybody else, could exercise their democratic rights and act as participants in their society. The “city” and university were taking this away by transforming the park into a regulated environment that conformed to social standards that humans “should” adhere to.
    Interestingly, public space has permeated into other outlets in our society that are not material. Prior to reading Mitchell’s article, I was unaware that public space could take an immaterial form. The Internet has become a new public space where people can communicate their ideologies and express their political involvement. Mitchell further elaborates that the government has sought to “privatize most parts of the Internet.” (pg. 123). It is important for users of public spaces to exercise their rights to these places and establish their legitimacy in society. In doing so, the users promote the growth of public spaces and establish their political power in a democratic nation.

  3. After reading Mitchell’s “The End of Public Space,” I gathered many definitions and interpretations of what “public space” entails. Public space, in my mind, is defined as a location where all people can be amongst each other as friends or strangers, a place for endless activities, but still enforced and followed by law. Mitchell discusses many competing definitions and struggles over public space. He starts with the People’s Park struggle for free space, a joint University of California and city of Berkeley plan to develop a space for the community and college. People’s Park is just an example of the many locations that suffer the same obstacles. The debate over if homeless people are allowed to live there was a significant one. Mitchell states the argument that since homeless people show all their private activities in the public then it is considered not allowed for them to live in these “public” and not private spaces. I agree with this because I would not want a space of public leisure be abused by the homeless and I would want a space that is still enforced by laws, including public urination, etc. On page 109, it states, “Their goal was to create a user-controlled park in the midst of a highly urbanized area that would become a haven for those squeezed out by a fully regulated urban environment.” I interpret this statement as they (People’s Park organizers) wanted to create a space that laws were under looked so homeless people can live and crime can exist. This then creates conflict with the community, activists and the police. Duane, a homeless person, expresses his side of the argument with, “This is about homelessness, and joblessness, and fighting oppression” (page 113). It’s hard to agree with this because homeless people should have the same rights as any citizen and should not be treated any different. They have living and food shelters that provide to their missing needs, for them to say they have “homeless people rights,” I think are wrong. An important point from Mitchell’s essay that we should keep in mind as we begin to inquire into the public spaces around us comes from page 116 which discusses the importance of public space in Democratic Societies, “It provided a meeting place for strangers, whether citizens, buyers, or sellers, and the ideal of public space in the agora encouraged nearly unmediated interaction-the first vision of public space noted above.” A significant point about public space is that it should be cherished for a location to share new ideas, meet new people and express human nature in an incorporated area that people in urban places especially crave. Another aspect of topic in this dispute of public space is the many reasons for the growth of open space – preserving ecologically sensitive areas (page 121). This made me think about something new and that our cities and rural areas need that development of “green” space for reasons dealing with protection from natural disasters (removing flood plains from development) and maintaining property values by establishing an undevelopable greenbelt. Also on page 121 it states that Boulder, Colorado is a great example of this “green” space growth, where preservation of open spaces in and around urbanized areas is regarded highly important for parks, biking and hiking trails, natural areas, etc. I will conclude with saying that public space is not coming to an end, but only needs some more paying attention to and effort from communities and political influences. Public space needs to be a spot for interacting with people and a space to relax, and not a place for crime and homeless slums and I feel the only solution for that to become true is by enforcement from police and operating officials.

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