The Politics of Public Space

Thanks to Brian and Newsha for their presentations! The required reading for next week is:

Kilian, Ted. “Public and Private, Power and Space.” In The Production of Public Space, edited by Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith. 115-34. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield 1998.

The PDF is available on MyCourses. Please remember to post your reading responses 24 hours in advance of class.


17 thoughts on “The Politics of Public Space

  1. Camille Bédard

    In “Public and Private, Power and Space,” Ted Kilian deconstructs the dichotomy between public and private spaces. If publicity and privacy exist as categories, spaces are not uniquely public or private, but rather combine these two concepts. According to Kilian, public space is either conceived as a site of contact or a site of representation. For supporters of the first approach, such as Jane Jacobs, public spaces which are the most effective are those where contact is neither intimate nor anonymous. Henri Lefebvre represents the second approach which conceives space as a product of social practice. Power relationships that operate in such spaces transform their degree of publicity/privacy. The increase of privatization in public space has resulted in the emergence of a new category of users, the ‘undesirables’, rejected even in spaces that are meant to be public.

    Kilian succeeds in his demonstration of the flexibility and fluidity of such terminology. On the one hand, the author explores the different nuances in publicity, as public spaces are not as public as they seem. Indeed, spatial segregation is at stake in some public spaces, since those who control such spaces do not give access to everyone but rather demand a ‘consumable vision of civility.’ According to Kilian, being seen has to be distinguished from being represented : appearing in a space does not secure access to it. On the other hand, privacy can be considered as power or absence of power – because public space is where power and politics are deliberated. In brief, Kilian puts forward a new conceptualization of spaces that would focus on the power relationships which operate within them, instead of focusing on the public/private divide.

    • In his article “Public and Private, Power and Space” Kilian challenges traditional definitions and methodologies for the evaluation of public space in order to argue for a different form of spatial practice. He refutes our widely accepted understanding of publicity and privacy as characteristics or descriptors of space, to show instead these ideas as expressions of power relationships that exist in all space. He focuses on the production of public space, rather than the space itself, to explain how these relationships emerge through social interaction and define the accessibility of space and power to different groups.

      At the heart of Kilian’s argument is a consciousness of the division between theory and empirical study of public space, and he is critical of methodologies that fall apart as they attempt to transition between the two. His proposal carefully avoids reifying public space (the downfall of traditional methodologies), and instead follows a framework for understanding relationships in space that classify users in terms of their powers of access and exclusion. The level of privacy or publicity afforded a particular group is dependent on their power to define appropriate users and appropriate use of the space.

      It is clear from his argument is that physical, tangible space is central to any social movement’s ability to gain power and challenge authority and that through its production this space must offer both the right of privacy and publicity. It is not clear how this can be achieved. Is all such space existing in some form and re-appropriated through the production of alternate power relations? Or is it possible to start from scratch, an unoccupied site, and build a successful framework for his anti-utopian reality?

  2. Politics of Public Space: Gated Communities

    Killian, challenges the notion of Public Space as a contested space where Public and Private continues to divide communities especially, marginalized, displaced and racially diverse. The notion of Representation, and who gets to be part has become a political issue, which planners and social workers need to critically engage with. Historically, public spaces have existed for the use and pleasure of its citizens. However, often the laws around public space tends to be complex, as they may be privately owned public space as in the case of Liberty Plaza, now known as Zucotti Park, after the developer’s name.
    New York Times reported, “Privately Owned Park, Open to the Public, May Make Its Own Rules: Zuccotti Park, the half-acre plaza in Lower Manhattan now synonymous with Occupy Wall Street, exists in a strange category of New York parkland, identified by a seeming oxymoron: a privately owned public space.” Public space as sites of struggle, was evident through the occupy movement. Ordinary people were claiming their rights to the public space to show solidarity against the economic disparity of our times. They chose Zucotti, due to its strategic location in the financial capital of the world – WALL STREET and accessibility. Unlike other city parks in NY that have 1AM curfew, and encampment laws. Zucotti had no such challenges. Because it was privately owned, it was open 24 hrs without any rules posted about gathering; camping etc. As the protest continued it became a big challenge for the city. According to Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, “The city had a policy for encouraging commercial developers to create open space in exchange for more height. But until now, no one has thought about the issue of what the rules are. This has highlighted one of the gaps in New York’s planning system.”
    Now Zucotti has new rules but it may be too late, as the citizens around the world have claimed their rights to the public space from Egypt to Madrid and New York to London to be heard.

  3. Brittany Marshall

    Kilian begins his analysis on public and private spaces by describing the concern for the decrease of public spaces, resulting in a decrease of public life. However he finds it difficult to discern what we have actually lost with public and comparably private spaces, due to their ambiguity of definition. He continues to state that spaces are produced by those who use it, and are neither exclusively public nor private, but rather contain both. This “power relationship” does not place public and private with equal and opposing qualities, but instead with characteristics that coexist in varying ratios, depending on the situation.

    In terms of the social production of spaces, I believe he is getting at who is defining what places are, these places we may or may not have lost, and what influence of hierarchy is affecting those accessing them. In the description of the “power of access and exclusion” there are three types of people who access a space, being the inhabitants, visitors, and strangers. It is true that the way we’ve accepted social norms and unspoken understandings of boundaries based on a general acceptance of how the world works. We go into places and immediately take on the role of our status in comparison to those around us. It is the concept of surveillance that keeps us in our place. The conclusion Kilian makes is based on the inherent nature of spaces as they are now, and while he is against the process of surveillance, he accepts that there will always be an “inescapable struggle within power relationships”. He recognizes that there is no utopian ideal, as at this point if there is no claim on a space, or if one is lost, it will just be replaced by another.

    If we have not necessarily lost the idea of “public” spaces, has the stricter result of every inch of space being defined and regulated which gives the impression that there has been a decrease, with the removal of understanding access limitations? In terms of architecture, interventions become more complex within this layered system of ownership.

  4. Noémie Despland-Lichtert

    Ted Killian states its argument within the first page on the text “ I will show that publicity and privacy are not characteristics of space. Rather they are expressions of power relationships in space and hence, both exist in every space”. He opposes this affirmation to two other visions on public space that he considers erroneous: first public space as a place for impersonal contact and second as a place for representation. For the author pulic space should allow both privacy and publicity to its users. I very much agree with the idea that everyone disserves a certain amount of privacy within any public space; and that the boundaries between public and private are not clearly define as well as fluid. The privacy and safety should be possible by mutual respect. The author explains situations where this privacy (and/or safety) of an individual is threatened and how allowing privacy as well as maintaining safety for all users of a public space is a challenge. I particularly found inspiring Thomas Markus’s framework for understanding power constellations among three categories: Inhabitants, Visitors and Strangers that can be applied to any spaces. I believe it provides a very nice tool to analyze power relations within space.

  5. In “Public and Private, Power and Space”, Ted Kilian examines issues relating to the issue of public versus private ideologies. There are two perspectives: the conventional liberal understandings of publicity and privacy, and the site as a representational tool influenced by Henri Lefebvre’s perspective. These two approaches are critiqued in order to support his observations of the power relationships that determines how public spaces function realistically.

    Kilian explains that the private and public aspects of spaces are resulted from the power relationship in the social sphere. We are influenced by social norms; there are rules that determine our behaviours and justifies our reaction towards other individuals in the public realm. The fact that the undesirables are excluded from the privacy of the privileged is a type of spatial segregation that exemplifies the mutual relationship between inhabitants and strangers. The power of a group in Kilian’s understanding has a large impact on defining the users and the use of spaces.

    I agree with Kilian’s perspective that we should realistically confront privacy and publicity instead of seeking an utopian public sphere that attempts to eliminate either privacy or publicity in pursue of an idealized spatial condition. When privacy and publicity are both achieved socially, exclusion of the “undesirables” will be minimized and public spaces would tolerate a higher degree of acceptance.

  6. The proposition by Fraser of other public spaces and ‘subaltern counterpublic’, allowing groups who are not part of the dominant construction to have their own space of representation somehow reminded me of the concept of ‘free state’. Free states in an urban context are temporary pockets of freedom declared in a private land and has in some occasions allowed the representation and the development of marginal groups such as artists. The American poet/philosopher Hakim Bey declared TAZs (Temporary Autonomous Zones) in some areas of the cities where he travelled to. Theses planned free spaces obtained through temporary permissions would allow for unrestrained space of experimentation, where constraining norms of the would not inhibit their creative process. It was a gathering space for the artists and the free thinkers. More importantly, there zones were a symbolical gesture, the seeking of a haven where they would no longer be misrepresented. AVL (Atelier Van Shout), also claimed similar territories for artists in the Netherlands and even place a mercedes with a gun on its roof out of mockery at one of its entrance. The last scenario leads to show that these subaltern conterpublic spaces face serious issues such as raised by Kilian. These other public spaces, in this case those free zones, must connect with its non-members, the public at large. The inequalities found in public spaces can also be recreated on a different scale within those smaller territories. Kilian quotes Richard Sennett who explains well the problem:

    “We understand that power is a matter of national and international interests the play of classes and ethnic groups, the conflict of regions or religions. But we do not act upon that understanding. Localism and local autonomy are becoming widespread political creeds, as though the experience of power relations will have more human meaning the more intimate the scale-even though the actual structures of power grow ever more into an international system. The result is that the forces of domination or inequity remain unchallenged.”

    Empowering the marginals groups through the creation of those zones only duplicates the problem on a different scale, within a private space. It potentially allows of the exclusion of other groups. Furthermore, it also creates a basis for discrimination by spatially segregating these groups. In a way, their haven almost becomes a prison where they are confined to their own territories and no longer need to be part of the larger public.

  7. Alexandre Hamel

    The concepts of public and private spaces, which can become limited in their strict definition, are essential to the understanding of how a spaces function in a social context. Kilian goes beyond the simple definition of private vs public and argues that in order to be able to correctly analyze the dynamics of place, we must understand space as the result of social interactions. People are not transiting through private and public space, but are rather living in a constantly changing dualistic space where the individuals are at once trying to avoid absorption into the public by the means of privacy and at the same time trying to assert themselves into the public sphere or the realm of political power.

    Following the same logic of private and public power relationships constantly evolving and defining the identity of space, Kilian then borrows Thomas Markus’ framework in order to be able to analyze any type of space. By defining three categories of people which produce the dynamics of space, we can then understand the relations of power governing a social environment. The concept of inhabitant, visitor and stranger is well expressed by the author when three spaces with varying degrees of privacy are given as models. The home, the restaurant and the park clearly illustrate completely different contexts analyzed with the same methodology quite successfully.

    But in the end, is it realistic to empirically analyze every situation through the lens of an inhabitant, a visitor and a stranger. Social power relationships of privacy and publicity are complex phenomenon in need of a more fluid model for analysis and adjustment in order to aim for a more equalitarian public sphere.

  8. Kilian starts his essay by exposing the general view that public spaces are decreasing in number, size and quality, which threatens public life. In order to better understand these issues, he challenges the definition of public and private, stating that privacy is the power to exclude from a space while publicity is the power to gain access to one. For him, these terms describe relations of control and authority over spaces more that the physical notion of being alone or in group in a space.

    Kilian interestingly has an answer to one of the issues that we discussed last week, about why it is considered socially wrong for homeless people to occupy one of Tokyo’s park, even if they are doing so in a peaceful, organized and respectful manner. ‘We find ourselves in the unenviable position of arguing for the right of the homeless to sleep in parks instead of their human right to privacy – to a home.’ He finds that the actual problem in this instance is not the fact that the homeless are included in a public space, but the fact that they are excluded from any kind of private sphere.

  9. Ted Kilian, in his piece Public and Private, Power and Space, revisits and examines the notion of public and private in a city context. According to Kilian, past studies made by individuals such as Jane Jacobs are incomplete, or inaccurate, in describing the prescription of the terms in question. Throughout the essay, Kilian argues that the notions of public and private should not be viewed as two distinct and separate entities; he deems it insufficient to consider public and private as situated at opposite end of a continuum. In this regard, I do believe that he is right. I agree with the idea that both moments of public and private coincide in every space, and as Kilian points out, it is the interaction between the two that truly defines a space. Therefore, we do not move from public to private spaces, rather we are constantly in both. It is the social interaction within these spaces that gives them meaning.
    Kilian goes on to discuss that relationship/co-relation of power and space. As he so clearly depicts, rules and regulation are inevitable in every public space; thus, whether we consider the view introduced by Jane Jacobs of ‘eyes on the street,’ or we consider space as representative to a corporation/city the inevitable outcome is that of exclusion of marginal groups. The underlined problem is our natural tendencies to want to fill the streets with ‘normal’ users. Kilian argues that in order to resolve this matter we must break away from our utopian ideals and face issues of publicity and privacy in a more balanced manner. He demonstrates that true power for all can only be attained through a balance of public and private; that is, the power of inclusion and that of exclusion.
    However, Kilian ends his text in a way that suggests that the issues brought forward by public and private spaces create an inescapable cycle. In the private realm (that of the bourgeoisie), individuals seem to want to continuously divide private into more and more private, further and further away from the all seeing public. The question of how to design proper public and private spaces then remains. What actions are necessary to attain well balanced public and private spaces within cityscapes?

  10. Yousef Farasat

    In the article “Public and Private, Power and Space” Ted Killiam contends that the traditional models for evaluating the public space and public sphere are no longer adequate, because although they “reify” the notion of public space, they fail to define it clearly. The author argues that by classifying a space as “public” or “private”, both the “Public Space as a site of contact” model advocated by Jane Jacobs, and the “Public Space as a site of representation” model popularized in the late 1980’s fail to underline the presence and importance of “publicity” in private spaces or that of “privacy” in public spaces. According to Killian, the power of access (publicity) and the power of exclusion (privacy) “operate in tension within the same space”. Killiam proposes a framework to study the relationships in any space using three categories of people: Inhabitants, visitors and Strangers, each having varying power of access and exclusion on a space. Inhabitants have the rights of access and exclusion; Visitors have the right of access for the “appropriate” purpose and no right of exclusion; and stranger have no rights of access or exclusion. I believe that it is at this point that Killiam’s argument ends up in a somewhat problematic position. First Killiam contends that strangers are defined by the inhabitants in accordance with the laws and norms of the society, and furthermore that decisions about who is a stranger and who is a visitor are made by a set of laws that define appropriate and inappropriate use. With this argument, Killiam seems to accept the fact that laws and norms in society apply equally to every member of society (i.e: that laws are NOT biased towards certain a demographic in society), and that public policy has a direct correlation with the needs and opinions of society. However I think that both these assertion could be easily questioned by looking at some of the evidence in our own society. A good example is some of the provisions of Bill 78 that were passed by the Quebec government in 2012, with the goal of stopping the student protest. Although the law was opposed by more than 60 percent of the population, and arguably infringed on certain charter rights of the citizens (right of assembly) it was passed by a majority liberal government. This is also not an isolated case. Unfortunately, there seems to be an increasingly noticeable divergence between public opinion and public policy in western democracies; something which is highly problematic for Killiam’s framework.

  11. Newsha Ghaeli

    One of the most important points that Kilian establishes in his paper “Public and Private, Power and Space” is that public and private spaces should be understood through the social interactions that happen within them. This notion can be easily reasserted through many current-day events. The Occupy Wall Street movements, for example, were allowed for a time due to the claim that the demonstrators were using a ‘public’ space within their rights. Once city leaders did not approve of the movement any longer, the occupants were deemed as invasive and sinister and they were removed.

    How can cities pretend to provide citizens with communal, public spaces when the activities preformed within them they’ve limited and clearly defined. What becomes the difference between this ‘public’ space and somebody’s ‘private’ home? If a homeowner asks you not to behave in a certain manner in their home, you abide out of respect. If a city officials ask of you the same with respect to the city’s parks, is it also respect that forces you to abide? This is where Don Mitchell’s “The End of Public Space” becomes relevant. Mitchell argues that rather than changing the design of public spaces, a change is needed in the processes by which public spaces, and their occupation, are defined.

    Mitchell’s argument brings to light the role of the designer. If public space does not need a redesign, does the architect have a role in defining public space?

  12. Mylène Carrière

    Kilian’s title, “Public and Privates, Power and Space”, resumes quite well the main topic of the text. His main statement is that a space is never public nor private, but always an equilibrium between those two. Those two terms, Publicity and Privacy, should not be seen as characteristics of the space but rather as the expression of power relationships of the space. These relationships of power should be seen as created by social interactions.

    In today’s society Kilian argues that a “space is define as public or private through political struggle”. To me, the most relevant author that is brought to the text is Markus, where he defines the space with three actors and their relation to publicity, the power of access and Privacy, the power of exclusion. Inhabitants are the one with all the power to access and exclude, while the visitors can access, with the appropriate use define by the inhabitant, but can exclude and finally the strangers, also known as the “undesirables” a term often used in Kilian’s text, who have none of these powers.

    But how can we create a space where even “undesirable” have rights. Markus says that space “should be more “public” and give more power to visitors and strangers to contest their status and the appropriate use of the space”. How can we do this? I think the only thing we should keep in mind is that a space that is more “public” where every human being has power still has to be “private” because we need to maintain our rights and identities. In other words, “Protecting ourselves from absorption into the public through the power of privacy [exclusion] and asserting ourselves into the public sphere [the realm of political power]”.

  13. Kristian Morse

    Kilian begins to define public and private space by citing Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennet who both argue against “togetherness” in public space adding that the requirement to share will drive people back into the private realm. Jacob thus argues that there must be a “clear demarcation between public and private life”. She also defines two other characteristics to make a city neighborhood successful: eyes on the street by those who we might call the “proprietor’s of the street”, and “fairly continuous activity.”

    It is interesting to hear of instances where this theory of the demarcation between public and private life are tested. Such instances occur, as Lynn Staeheli states, during numerous public protest demonstrations where actions that are deemed private, “such as breast-feeding and kissing among homosexuals, are enacted in public”. The idea of obscuring the line between public and private functions clearly denotes Jacobs’ theory for “successful” communities.

    It is interesting for architects and designers who, like myself, more often think of space as physical, to focus on public and private space as a socially constructed representation rather than an issue of proximity and contact. One can thus appreciate a more complex underlying definition of public and private space that must continually be “tested” before subjugating certain social circles.

  14. Within this reading, the statement that is most pertinent (to me at least) is when Kilan states “In Lefebvre’s terms, the conditions of the ‘spatial practice’ that is created within capitalism are uneven”. I think what this means is that as long as we exist under a state of Hegemony, we cannot have a space that is reflective of our cultural consciousness.

    When Kilan cites the People’s Park project having issues with the homeless, I think his argument neglects the fact that the homeless situation was never spoken about prior to the University of Berkeley reasserting its power over the park. I would argue that the People Park, in its conception, was representative of the cultural consciousness. That the society was more tolerant of the practices that presided in the space, and less concerned about aesthetics or representation. That it was a space conceived by how people felt, rather than a vision of what it had to be. This is a fundamental difference in the way public space is conceived under a state of capitalism. Only when the University claimed the land once again, did issues of representation and ‘safety’ enter the conversation.

  15. Killian outlines the many different problems with “public” and “private” space. The ability to analyze “public space” without providing a clear definition, the reification of the public, the questions labelling as one or the other. Killian does not claim to offer solutions, systematically dismantling previous proposals, ultimately concluding that the power relationships between inhabitants, visitors, and strangers are fluid and constantly changing. In Montreal, the “Underground City” exemplifies the strange distinction between public and private space. It has become a trademark of Montreal – a connected underground system linking transit stations, shops, eateries, restroom facilities, salons, cinemas. An entire range of activities has been made accessible, ignoring streets, sidewalks or the conventions of a traditional downtown core, and replaced with broad promenades and fountains. This is an entirely pedestrian zone, sheltered from the elements, and regularly cleaned. The individual stores are privately owned, and a large portion of this network is made up by large shopping centres (Eaton, Les Ailes de la Mode, Place Montreal Trust). However, the connections between these areas rely on cooperation between neighbouring competing businesses: built under municipal streets, it is often unclear who can actually claim ownership to these liminal spaces. The areas are supervised, both by central security services and the individual merchants, as every shop owner has a stake in the overall climate of the space. And the continuous activity of shopping and mingling allows for people to join together without the compulsion of knowing them as people, allowing for contact on their own terms. Although shopping malls are often deplored as the privatization of valuable public land, the reality is that as a system, it allows for a much broad network of public spaces. The place given to “undesirables” varies moving through the network, with some buildings enforcing strict policies against it, but many of the food courts are open late, and provide a place to sit inside, away from the cold. It falls short of a Disneyland, as many of the problems found in the street are internalized: but these power “struggles” can be managed away from the harsh realities of the street. The originally private spaces have become appropriated by the city (and it’s pride in the Underground City) and by its inhabitants, who use the services offered according to their means and at their leisure.

  16. Nicki Reckziegel

    Killian criticizes the literature that condemns public space without initially effectively defining it. His main aim is to illustrate that publicity and privacy are not at opposite ends of a spectrum, but rather factors in determining the power relationships that exist within a space. Individuals and groups must have a space in order for their needs to be heard and to have political power (aka a “space for representation); however, the power relationships in most (if not all) public spaces calls for the exclusion of some group or other, thus denying their rights. “Those who have the greatest power over a space have both the greatest power of access and the greatest exclusion.”
    Killian thinks that the ways in which other have theorized about public space have led planners and designers astray, causing them to think primarily about the space rather than the “ways in which public life forms space”. Neither space that is left open for adaptation, nor one that is planned such that it dictates acceptable activities consider the realities of the power struggles that exist in “public” space.
    Kilian’s conclusion, that “rather than seek an ideal public sphere that is free of exclusion, power, and privacy, we should focus on the processes in which the necessary contestation of privacy and publicity is played out,” is admittedly realistic and anti-utopian. What is the designer’s role in this? Is there a way in which the designer, armed with this knowledge, can successfully design “public” space that will enable a continued discussion about these power relationships?

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