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Table of Contents. Cover Download Save. Frontmatter Download Save. Contents pp. Acknowledgements pp.

Rites of Way: The Politics and Poetics of Public Space by Mark Kingwell

Introduction: Rites of Way, Paths of Desire pp. PART I p. We Wuz Robbed pp. Public Space: Lost and Found pp. Architecture and Public Space pp. Holistic Democracy and Physical Public Space pp. Public Spaces and Subversion pp. Take to the Streets!

Rites of Way: The Politics and Poetics of Public Space

How Insensitive : An Excerpt pp. It is also what tourists and visitors see of the city; it is the living room of the young, the old, and the poor, and an advertisement of a city's image. Although it belongs to "everyone", and is historically organized by local government, there is always great competition over its control.

Whoever controls public space sets the "program" for representing society. Since the late s, regimes of public space in all cities have become more democratic, inclusive, and tolerant. Political demonstrations, performances, and festivals have made public spaces more dynamic, more attractive, more open to different social groups. But public spaces have also attracted people who once were limited to narrow areas of the city, including drug users, dealers in illegal or illicit goods, and the homeless. For the past years, in American cities, these combined conditions of festivity and dereliction have led first to a devalorization and then to a revalorization of public space, primarily at the city's center.

Financial, moral, and visual values are always connected. Many of them shifted authority over urban space from government toward the private sector. Beginning in the s, support for preservation of old buildings or "landmarks" , a movement of artists and professionals into old districts or "gentrification" , and capital investment in new "festival" and "themed" shopping malls joined with the revalorization of old food markets and new restaurants, the installation of public art and building of art museums, and a new appreciation of historic urban identities.

Similarly, streets and parks are designed as if they were spaces of consumption. In this "American" model of public space, the ideal city no longer influences the real city. Instead, the stores, entertainment complexes, and art museums that are important interventions in public space are shaping an ideal city based on consumption. The common symbols of public space are increasingly derived from the nexus of aesthetic display and commercial culture. Let us take a closer look at three such projects: a public park, a commercial street, and the flagship store of a multinational corporation.

This nine-acre park sits behind the main building of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, close to Times Square, in a central commercial district of office towers and stores. For most of the 20th century, the park has been difficult to control. During the Great Depression, unemployed people tried to sleep in the park, and during World War II, soldiers and visitors to the city used the park for illicit trysts and meetings. In the s, drug dealers used the park, even during the day, making others, especially women, afraid to enter.

The impression of the park as a sinister place was aided by its design, planned by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century. Tall stone walls and trees isolated the park from the view of passers-by. The feeling of nature Olmsted had desired was used, instead, to isolate the interior from the streets and led to the park's abandonment.

Toward the end of the s, the New York City Parks Department yielded to the request of a private association of owners of office buildings and their corporate tenants around the park, and turned over the park's management to them. Whyte, of how and why people used this and other small parks in the center of Manhattan. They aimed to use the design of the park to attract a critical density of "normal", law-abiding users.

The aesthetic program, one could say, was to make the park more "civilized". I would call it "domestication by cappuccino". Significantly, under private management, the public space of the park is protected by a large number of public police officers and private security guards. The BID has posted rules for using the park at each entrance: no one may be in the park after sunset except at a cultural event organized by the BID, no one may pick things from the garbage except for homeless people associated with one church near the park, no one may drink alcohol except in one area of the park.

Some rules are the same as in all public parks, but Bryant Park was, I believe, the first park to post rules on signs in the park and to employ security guards to enforce them. Despite the privatization of control over Bryant Park, the park is safer and more attractive than it was prior to the s. On a sunny day, several thousand people eat lunch in the park, and there are as many women as men who feel at home there.

The BID organizes poetry readings and performances during the day, and, in the summer, shows movies once a week at sunset. From the time of the Great Depression, the number of "legitimate" commercial theaters steadily declined and the number of "low-brow" burlesque, pornographic shops, and movie theaters steadily rose.

Buildings became dilapidated and were not modernized; illegal sex and drug businesses took over the street. Its degradation repelled private investors, corporate offices, and real estate developers from that whole area of the West Side of midtown Manhattan.

In and between: urban creativity in public space - Claudia Konyalian - TEDxTirana

No redevelopment strategy attracted much interest until the s, when the expansion of the stock market and financial and legal services persuaded the city and state governments that the time was ripe to redevelop Times Square as a commercial center like Wall Street or Park Avenue north of Grand Central Terminal. The city and state governments offered big financial incentives, and used the power of the state, to tear down old buildings, evict low-class and illegal uses, and transform 42nd Street into a financial district.

Significant opposition to this plan came from elite groups notably, the Municipal Art Society with an interest in revalorizing the aesthetic qualities of the city, especially the special aesthetic qualities historically identified with Times Square. They criticized the architect Philip Johnson for designing buildings that were too tall and insufficiently interesting for this space. Ironically, the defense of Modernist commercial culture defeated the undistinguished Postmodern architecture of the office buildings.

When the crash of the stock market in caused an indefinite delay in the financing for redevelopment, the idea slowly emerged of transforming Times Square into a new public space of commercial culture: of re-aestheticizing 42nd Street according to the American model that developed during the s. This time, instead of developing new theaters that would demand new forms of dramatic writing and performance, planners and architects advised, in part, by the architect Robert A.


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  • Stern proposed that old theaters be renovated and joined by new stores and restaurants under the theme of family entertainment and "safe" commercial culture: a virtual theme of "42nd Street". The commanding presence, on which commitments for financing depended, was that of the Disney Company. Disney's three-part contribution to 42nd Street more or less constituted its first "urban" intervention anywhere.

    The Disney Company opened a new Disney Store, renovated an early 20th century theater to produce Disney plays based on Disney movies, and took an investment share in a project for a new hotel. A large public was expected to fill these spaces, but this public was no longer a local, urban one. Instead, 42nd Street was reborn as a public space for tourists, suburban residents, and families on vacation.