Politics of Public Space

Please post your reading response for Ted Killian, due Sep 26, 24 hours before class, here by replying.  Thanks!


5 thoughts on “Politics of Public Space

  1. Nina Mihaylova

    Ted Kilian’s understanding of the categories of public and private, although being slightly counter-intuitive, appears to be the most realistic in a series of visions on this debate. As members of a society, we accept to follow certain established laws and suppress our privacy for the greater good, without however compromising entirely our individuality. Publicity and privacy are intertwined in a complex and dynamic relationships of power, which are also inevitably related to their physical and local context. We accept some spaces as more “private” and others as “public”, depending on the power of exclusion and access, without taking into account the fact that they go hand in hand; as the public sphere constantly invades our private spaces (for example the rules we set in our home might be affected by reality shows on TV and thus social norms), and reciprocally, as we have relative private freedoms in a social space (for example reading a book in the middle of a public park).
    As “public” and “private” are power relationships; inevitably, there is always an empowered individual or a group which imposes its tolerance upon the usage of that space. This is always more problematic in the view of a “public” space as the “ownership” of the space is vaguely defined and even though the state owns the land, we presume that society should have a say in the applied laws of freedom and expression. This is yet another problematic concept as “society” in its structure is widely exclusive towards certain groups of people (for example the homeless, the “different”, etc.). So how can minorities be allowed the same respect as the vast majority in terms of privacy in public spaces?
    I do believe that counterpublics rarely triumph in their demands towards the vast majority of society but in some rare cases, they gain power by widely broadcasting their ideas and convincing an increasing amount of members of the accepted society to join their cause. This might be achieved through digital social media, however I strongly believe that physical space has the greatest impact on such movements. The embodiement of spaces in which certain groups are excluded can, indeed, marginalize them even more; however, these manifestations of physical bodies occupying a space are much harder to ignore, and the public is more likely to reflect on the reasons for this protest. I think this has something to do with basic human nature: we seem to be more responsive to physical rather than digitized phenomena. For example, an internet petition spreads wider than a physical one, however writing down our physical signature on a piece of paper and looking at others’ signatures preceding our gives us a much greater sense of empowerment. The same, I believe, applies to any social demands: our will of empowerment has to be embodied in order to be heard.

  2. Josiane Crampé

    In his article “Public and Private, Power and Space”, Ted Kilian examines new perspectives in the constitution of public spaces through the concepts of “public” and “private”, two categories that coexist in space and spatial relations. At first, the author critiques Jane Jacobs’s position on public spaces, what she calls “successful neighborhoods”, that requires a “clear demarcation between the public and private space.” Social contacts must remain impersonal to engage people in public life. Secondly, he argues that processes of representation in public spaces lead to injustices towards certain group of individuals because of the social and communal nature of these spaces.
    Kilian approach on defining public spaces does not “reified spaces are essentially “public” or “private”. Spaces contain both elements as “two forces in tension within the same space”. Thus, I tend to agree with Kilian’s model that revisits some of the original concepts drawn by Henri Lefebvre: “a space is a whole, its complex and contradictory nature is on one hand produced and supported by social relations” and on the other hand is also “producing social relations” (LEFEBVRE, 1991). On the same line of thoughts, social relations implies power relations between individuals or groups of people that lead to inequity and injustice towards some people, often marginalized, “undesirables”, in accessing public spaces. According to Kilian, power relations embodied in public spaces are “necessities” to define them as “public”, “private” or both, where “privacy is the power to exclude and publicity, the power to access”. Moreover, individuals who “have the greatest power over a space have both the greatest power of access and the greatest exclusion” (KILIAN, 1998).
    Looking at some non-Western examples to illustrate this new methodology, it appears that Japan experiences of public space are charged with different meanings and controversies. Notions of public have for a long time led people to associate public with government:” Public official spaces were granted only temporarily to individuals” (DIMMER, 2005). Spatial restructuring in Japan major cities started with their transformation from in “industrial cities to post-fordist global cities”. New developments have contributed to the creation of new multi-functional urban sectors where with a renaissance of public spaces, however privately owned. This new image of public spaces served to promote developers private interest of cultural, entertainment and retail facilities based on a framework that specifically define the identity of the place. These new public spaces appeared as commodified spaces that attract only specific individuals (DIMMER, 2005). In a letter addressed to the prime minister Naoto Kan (2010), Dr. Christian Dimmer (School of Urban Design & Urban Studies at The University of Tokyo) denounces the lack of commitment from the government towards the population. Briefly, in 1999, a commission set up by the last political party seeks to prepare Japan for a “competitive and glorious future”. The final report called to: “individual empowerment and better governance in the new millennium” by public participation, for instance, “in sphere in which the public good is collectively and openly negotiated”. Dimmer’s argument states that without any physical space (parks, squares and promenades) for people to assemble and promote communal activities (cultural…), one cannot experienced any domains of the public sphere nor claim publicly for their rights.
    What is interesting in Japan case study is that recently, few public spaces started to shape differently according to new visions of what people should experience in public spaces. For instance in the Shinonome residential project, people started to appropriate physical public space and share experience, goods… and we might seek for the first results in the next few years. As Kilian states, “achieving an ideal public sphere that is free of exclusion, power and privacy” is not desirable. Will the Japanese model become a precedent for our Western societies?

  3. In his text, Kilian illustrates the problems with ‘public’ and ‘private’ space, especially in literature. He goes on to systematically disprove the many previous definitions of ‘public space’ or the ‘public sphere’. Although they provide a somewhat clearer description, they fall short in defining these notions. The reason, Kilian argues, is “that while spaces cannot be categorized as inherently “public” or “private”, we cannot and should not collapse or eliminate the concepts of publicity and privacy”. [1] He himself eludes an explicit definition; however his objective is rather to correct our flawed view of public space. Labelling a space as either ‘public’ or ‘private’ is an inaccurate way of interpreting space because Kilian argues “that publicity and privacy are power relationships that play out in space, and that both publicity and privacy exist as part of all spaces. Ignoring this duality (real physical space and socially constructed publicity or privacy) dooms any definition of public space to insufficiency.” [1] Instead, he recommends that we define a new category in order to reify the traditional significance of space, keeping the notions of ‘publicity’ and ‘privacy’. “We do not move from public to private, rather we are constantly within both, simultaneously 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).” [1] As a result, Kilian does not suggestion a solution, but rather a deeper understanding of the subtleties of the power relationships between inhabitants, visitors, and stranger in any given space.

    In the past, planners have focused on a physical understanding of public space. In order to dispose of ‘undesirables’ in public, a common approach is to outline clear programs within a space, thus defining an ‘appropriate use’ and facilitating the expulsion of any unfitting visitors. For example, it is easier to throw out a group of ‘loiterers’ on a tennis court if they are not practicing the sport, as opposed to an unconstrained park. However, one could argue that the social use of a space (which concurrently produces the power relations) should ultimately form it. Following this logic, how can we design better public spaces, which in turn give individuals the ability to simultaneously have the power of access and exclusion in the public sphere? Kilian suggests that we must enable this power relationship “in which the necessary contestation of privacy and publicity is played out” [1], rather than hinder it as we have been doing. Planners must break away from their obsession with certain configurations in the belief that they create a specific social outcome.

    What Kilian advocates is in no way an end result, but a method increasing equality in the public sphere. Admitting his methods are somewhat anti-utopian – as they shall always generate a struggle within the power relationships – perhaps simply being aware of these issues when designing public spaces is enough to generate a new typology: one that acknowledges the conflicting notions of ‘publicity’ and ‘privacy’ in a new definition of public space.

    1 Kilian, Ted, “Public and Private, Power and Space.” In Philosophy and Geography II: the Production of Public Space, 115-134. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford: Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

  4. We are in an unenviable position
    Osama Al-Sehail

    “Public and private” or “publicity and privacy”? If there is no agreement about their meanings, values, limits, or interpretations, how can we understand them or apply them in our life ? If what I believe as private is my right conflicts with what you think is your right as public is, how we can reach a settlement? If the definition of public or private becomes unclear, unlimited or useless, how can we deal with our lifelong values? All these ideas leap in front of me when I read “Public and Private, Power and Space” by Ted Kilian. From this perspective, I will try to highlight two points which really have sparked numerous inquiries. They are: replacing the positions and designing places for undesirables.
    Publicity or public space? Also, privacy or private space? Ted Kilian tries to find an alternative of a private and public space through talking about the term in relation to their meaning. I think most texts in this field involve the meaning of publicity and privacy, whether directly or in directly. For example, when Henri Lefebvre talks about space as a product of “spatial practice”, he talks about the value of space which involves all aspects . Also, if we examine a specific case, as does Lynn Staeheli, who focuses particularly on “women’s issues”, we find that she talks about the meaning of publicity and privacy and mentions public and private space indirectly. Nevertheless, I agree, partially, with Kilian when he talks about publicity and privacy. I can realize his ideas when I imagine a lady sitting alone on a wooden bench in a park where her space or place (the wooden bench) is shared with others; she expects a nuisance from some people. But, with some modification at this scenario, we find that privacy takes on the meaning of place. If that lady took mat and sat on the grass, her place as private space would be very clear. Of course, her place is being shared with others visually, but her private space is for her alone. It includes her privacy and is opposed to the park, which is public space. Therefore, accepting or refusing the terms (public and private or publicity and privacy) does not change the matter because each one signifies the other. When I talk about privacy I need private space to define it; we need privacy to value the space. Moreover, we cannot define one without its opposite.
    Secondly, designing a place for undesirables, is another topic in Ted Kilian’s essay because, normally, any design decision is aimed at a particular purpose and serves a specific group of people. But in designing a park , for instance, the matter takes on different dimensions at the present time. Normally, a park is public space; everyone can enter it without any restrictions. But, actually, it serves people who are not categorized as part of any group, such as homeless people. Now, the question whether, homeless people should participate in the public space, as Mitchell requests, and their representative identity become acceptable in public space, means that other people abandon some of their rights to homeless people. In other words, how we can convince a family wanting to visit a park full with homeless people to go there? what will be their feelings when they find themselves surrounded by homeless people. Of course, they will leave within a few minutes. I know, this is a very complex matter because it is related to human rights, but this is the reality and we do not want to close our eyes to the facts. People accept others in their public space when they feel others do not affect their privacy.
    In a nutshell, accepting the meaning of the public and private or publicity and privacy is a way of creating a balance between human beings and their surroundings. Personally, any prejudice in this area would lead to a failure of this equilibrium and return me to square one, where I will be in an unenviable position.

  5. Ayca Koseoglu

    Kilian, in “Public and Power, Private and Space” takes a critical stance against the conventional definition of “public” and “private” spaces and rejects the idea that “publicity”and “privacy” are characteristics of space. Rather than considering the two as seperate concepts, he suggests to accept the existence of both “publicity” and “privacy” in every space due to their capacity of revealing as expressions of power.

    By referring to the arguments of the past scholars, he discusses our tendency to leave public spaces for the use of non-marginal people which results in exclusion of some particular groups. While addressing Jane Jacob’s idea of defining clear boundaries between “public” and “private” spaces, which are a result of neither “intimate” nor “anonymous” contacts, Kilian underlines that public space wil not succeed in providing a “formal and impersonal” contact by following such an approach. Therefore, creating a lively public life would not be encourgaed. Supporting his idea by disproving the ideas of previous scholars increases the credibility of particular points Kilian propose throughout the whole text.

    In order to analyze the identity of space and evolving relationships among its users, Kilian embraces Markus’ groups of: “inhabitants” who has the ultimate power to access and eliminate, “visitors” as occasional users accepted by inhabitants and “strangers” as undesirables who have no power. Due to the constant changes between the relationships of these users, he asserts, character of the space also changes. For instance, the Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey was mostly used by transvestites, addicts and homeless -known as undesirables- especially at nights. Due to the recent governmental policies, the park turned into a center protests, became a spot that various social groups came together and resist for their civil rights. The police forces of the government hold the ultimate power in these days, therefore they make the decision about who the visitor or the stranger is now. That is to say the dominant social and political circumstances can induce explicit shifts on the defined users. Correspondingly, Kilian’s point in his own examples is also that unstable nature of space should prevent us from making strict definitions and setting boundaries.

    Even though the author does not come up with a certain conclusion, he suggest in the end that utopian ideals in the search of an ideal public sphere should be abandoned and the notions of “publicity” and “privacy” should be analyzed in a more balanced way. The theoretical arguments on public and private misdirect the designers to “define” spaces rather than to conceive how public life and power relationships inherent in the “space” transform them. Can the designers adequately contribute to the social production of space without reifying them as public and private?

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