Cluster 3.1 Relation and agency: Public space*

by kajsakorner

walking pic

“The space of appearance comes into being wherever men are together in the manner of speech and action, and therefore predates and precedes all formal constitution of the public realm and the various forms of government, that is, the various forms in which the public realm can be organized. Its peculiarity is that, unlike the spaces which are the work of our hands, it does not survive the actuality of the movement which brought it into being, but disappears not only with the dispersal of men—as in the case of great catastrophes when the body politic of a people is destroyed—but with the disappearance or arrest of the activities themselves.” (Arendt, 1958:199)

I agree with Arendt, but I would use the term humans instead of men.

Arendt defines the public realm, interpreted** in terms of inclusion, as: it is accessible and used by everyone; groups and individuals are able to collectively participate in the formation of debates and dialogues; and it is a container for memories and history; “…outlasting mortal lives, it memorialises and thereby conveys a sense of history and society to individuals…” (Tiesdell and Oc, 1998). Harvey (2008) states that the right to the city goes beyond the individual, instead it is a collective action and human right, although often ignored***, and his thinking seems to departure from the same common ground as Arendt. Harvey (2008) refers to a North/Latin American urban context , while Tiesdell et al (1998) to a British, both exemplifying a fortification of cities; the amount of privatized space is increasing on the expenses of public space.**** In the American context, entire neighborhoods are enclosed, e.g. gated communities, while in the British setting; the fortification is, in 1998, on a micro scale.

My PhD thesis is about the relationship between walking and urban form; how the latter might promote or impede walking. Access to public space is a fundamental physical condition for walking. Applying an Arendtian perspective on walking and urban form, I argue for that, being able to walk in a city is about democracy and citizenship; human rights, access to society, and public space. Walking needs public space and public space needs walking. If walking is impeded, the essence of public space might disappear. Walking, among other aspects, can therefore be understood as an important parameter in order to improve social sustainability.

Arendt, H. 1958. The Human Condition.
Harvey, D. 2008. The right to the city. New Left Review, 23-40.
Tiesdell, S. & Oc, T. 1998. Beyond ‘fortress’ and panoptic’ cities – towards a safer urban public realm. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 25, 639-655.

* I have edited the reading list of cluster 3 and substituted the texts of Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, edited by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till, London: Routledge, 2011, and Doina Petrescu, ‘Relationscapes: Mapping Agencies of relational practice in Architecture’, in City, Culture, Society, 3, 2012, pp. 135-140, with Arendt, H. 1958. The Human Condition, and Tiesdell, S. & Oc, T. 1998. Beyond ‘fortress’ and panoptic’ cities – towards a safer urban public realm. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 25, 639-655.
** Tiesdell et al (1998) refers to several similar interpretations of Arendt’s definition of public realm in “Beyond ‘fortress’ and panoptic’ cities – towards a safer urban public realm”.
*** “The right to the city is far more than the indi¬vidual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the process of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.” Harvey, D. 2008. The right to the city. New Left Review, 23-40.
**** “The results are indelibly etched on the spatial forms of our cities, which increasingly consist of fortified fragments, gated communities and privatized public spaces kept under constant surveillance.” (Harvey, 2008:32) “The fortress city entails the physical segregation, territorialisation, and defence of space with express access controls determining who can and who cannot enter; those who belong and ‘the others’. (Tiesdell et al, 1998:643)