The Right to the City

The Mitchell reading regarding People's Park reminded me of somethings I had read before. "The right to the city" was a term that I remember Henri Lefebvre wrote about circa the 1968 Paris uprising. The idea of what Jurgen Habermas termed the "public sphere" is closely intertwined the the concept of the common, shared space and democracy. The public sphere is a discursive place where people can gather freely and collectively voice their opinion and exercise free speech. Traditionally, parks, town squares, piazzas have been places where such activities, so vitally linked to democracy, have taken place. Hannah Arendt has also has described such a place where people could gather and take collective action.

Yet, many scholars have claimed that the public sphere has reduced drastically or has ceased to exist...there is no more truly public space in modern life. People exercise political protest at home on their computers, this is the new locus of communal collective action and political discourse. Others have claimed that private interests have dominated the development of public space that that such spaces are engineered to shape pubic opinion. Certain sub groups, homeless and minorities have sometimes been excluded from such public spaces (e.g. UC Berkeley and People's Park.). The the public space is at once a place of inclusivity and exclusity. In his paper, "Seeking common ground: three perspectives of public space", Zachary Neal writes:

"In a critical study of Los Angeles, Davis (1992) highlights several mechanisms
of control, including barrel-shaped benches, sprinklers and
decorative enclosures around trash dumpsters designed to keep
the homeless away from specific areas. However, behavioural
control in public space is not limited to the ‘undesirables’; it can
also include middle-class shoppers and professionals when
‘circulation is internalized in corridors under the gaze of private
police’ in shopping malls or office complexes (Davis, 1992: p.