Urban Public Space – An Open Invitation to Contribute

This is an  invite  to readers to contribute to this blog,   any post that has to do with the urban public domain, especially if it can be situated in the actual physical pubic space of the city, any city is welcome.

I have been slack this month but have been thinking how to take the blog from re- posting generalized articles on the urban  to  original posts that deal with  issues of how politics, governance and business, especially retail property development,  impact on public space within the urban environment and  how these are shaped by the different “cultural” groups that make up these ‘publics’.

In the Southern Theory frameworks there is  interest in how the poor are disenfranchised by  manipulations of the public sphere to advantage those with power or money.

The media often play a key role in how these disenfranchised and marginalized people are viewed and treated by the authorities and power groups.

An example in Cape Town is how the City Improvement Districts e.g. Central City Improvement District  (CCID),  which is a partnership between the City of Cape Town and local business interests, in terms of which they are able to provide their own private police force,  which in the interests of public safety and order, clear the streets of ” undesirable elements” or  street people like unauthorized pavement traders, ‘car guards” ,traffic-light hawkers, beggars and homeless street kids, and as a consequence, those who have the least ability to make a living in “normal respectable ways” are denied access to the public spaces that are constitutionally their right where they might eke out a living,

This post  Ode to the Central City Improvement District from The Daddy Long Legs provides  one view.

Rita Abrahamsen wrote about it in her book, Security Beyond the State:

Communities, and particularly today’s urban communities, are often heterogeneous, with limited consensus…

For ‘undesirable elements’, such as street children and vagrants, the CCID has meant increased harassment and more frequent arrest…Securicor officers frequently transport street children to so-called safe houses, in order to get them off the streets, in full knowledge that they will be back the next day…

A combination of pubic by-laws and private enforcement serves to prevent the poor and the homeless from utilizing the city’s public spaces, where they frequently make their livings through various forms of informal trading…The articulation of private-public and global-local that has emerged in Cape Town thus facilitates specific forms of security provision that strengthen aspects of the public and the state, at the same time as it increases power differentials, disempowers already marginalized individuals or groups and renders the security provided by both public and private agents a distinctly variable

The media play a key role in the demonization and criminalisation of these groups – some of them are far from innocent of crimes such as pilfering, pick pocketing, drunkenness and drug peddling etc, which is the justification used to exclude all of them, not just those proven guilty. It is no coincidence that this is in the interests of business owners and property developers as well.

There are certainly benifits for the city and is population  in making the public space safer and the CCID has contributed to these efforts,  see for example this article from the Cape Town Partnerships website: Strategic partnership enhances safety of CBD’s Company’s Garden , but it seems to me that there might be ways of including more people in achieving this and so enabling a  equitable  city for all of its citizens and visitors.

Identifying as many as possible of these diverse interest groups, including those who are currently excluded, by means of Social Network Analysis techniques is the focus of a paper I am researching for presentation at the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) annual conference in Cape Town in September. The purpose of identifying them would be to be able to include all parties in a transdiciplinary discourse in order to find ways of balancing the rights of all people to the public spaces of the city and not just those with money and power, this is the focus of my PhD research with the African Centre for Cities.

So any of your own interests relating to the idea of “the rights to the city” or similar aspects of public habitability of the city would be of particular relevance as I flesh out this idea and post probably one “mini Paper” a week as I develop the paper.

Over the next few months I will be focusing on  reposting articles on topics that are relevant to this research

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you woud prefer to jointly develop any articles which we might take further to research .

Purely out of curiosity – let us know where in the world are you physically located?

Thanks

Donovan Gillman

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