The Right to the City

In the text “The Right to the City,” Don Mitchell uses “People’s Park” in Berkeley as a case study to explain the role of public space and the variables that influence the discourse. As he explains the history of struggle over People’s Park, among the University of California, City and Government officials, activists, students and residents (and the homeless), Mitchell illustrates the stance and ideology of each group on the issue of public space.

The dialectic of public space, which Mitchell borrows from Lefebvre and elaborates, introduces interesting points. The “representational space” and “represented space” are clearly visible in the clash of ideologies regarding People’s Park. The two elements – appropriation of space and planning of space – ideally should create conflict, engage in conversation and dilute the distinction between the two so that “public space is thus socially produced through its use as public space.”

Mitchell questions the promotion and the development of the private, rather than the public and the collective, as the figures that provide solutions to social problems. The contrasting quotes “imposing solution’s for other people’s own good” and “the survival of the park as a user-developed and –controlled site” defend the position of each group. This comparison led me to wonder about the niche of the architects in this dialectic of the public space and of the entity responsible for the quality of life in the realm of the collective.

In addition, the homeless does not fit into this equilibrium equation of public space and starts to create cracks in the perfect picture. This group does not belong to the clearly defined categories or players in the society; homeless people are “always in the public” but never considered as part of the public. As a piece of puzzle that does not quite fit into the bigger picture, they are forced to display the private nature of their personal lives in public. This issue starts to shed light on the inherent problems of the social model regarding the public and space.

I think the text brings in many fundamental and provocative questions regarding planning and design. Whose city? Which public and open spaces? What are other examples of this “misfits” in the contemporary society? Who has the right to impose these improvements? Foremost, how do we reach and maintain the balance between the vision of nature and the purpose of public space?

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