The relevance of public space: rethinking its material and political aspects

Moroni S., Chiodelli F. (2013) “The relevance of public space: rethinking its material and political aspects”. In: C. Basta, S. Moroni (Eds), Shared Spaces, Shared Values: Ethics, Design and Planning of the Built Environment, Springer, Berlin.

Two recurrent theses in the recent literature about public space are the following: first, ‘public space’ has a central role in the ‘public sphere’ creation (where public sphere is the locus of public debate and collective exchange of opinions); second, public space is today subject to a privatization process (due to the development of new types of private settlements such us shopping malls and ‘contractual communities’ like homeowners residential associations). These two established theses are for several reasons unconvincing: first, there is no necessary causal relation (and surely no necessary and sufficient causal relation) between ‘public space’ and the ‘public sphere’ (this is even more true nowadays, thanks to the development of the new information technology); second, no ‘privatization of public space’ is actually under way (on the contrary, an increasing ‘collectivization process of private space’ is taking place thanks to contractual communities and shopping malls). Rejecting the above-mentioned theses does not, however, imply denying the fundamental importance of public space for our cities, but simply appeals for a different kind of defence of it. Our point in particular is that the necessity of public space is above all dependent upon its ‘functional’ value (which has paradoxically been pushed into the background in recent debates), whereas its ‘symbolic’ value is merely secondary.

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