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To what extent is public space Public?

26 of March '24
w skrócie
  1. Perceive who dominates your neighborhood - strolling people, impatient people waiting at the bus stop, or perhaps a security guard, keeping an eye on order? What a public space looks like says a lot about who it is for and what activities take place in it.

  2. Discover how the revitalization process is changing the face of the city, bringing life back to public space.

  3. Learn about strategies of hostile architecture that intentionally restrict access to public space, especially for the less privileged. Consider the consequences for the community and what alternative approaches can be used.

  4. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the AiB portal

Does your city invite the public into shared space or does it segregate? Have you ever wondered if public space is really accessible to all? Urban landscapes reflect class aspirations, and the conversation about access to space should extend to small towns and rural areas.

If you look out your window, who do you see? People strolling by, impatient people standing at the bus stop, or maybe a security guard, keeping an eye on the surroundings? What the public space in your immediate area looks like says a lot about who it is for and what activities it invites.

Whose city is it after revitalization?

Revitalized spaces seem to be of particular interest here. Very often we can find gentrification or concretization under the guise of this phenomenon. However, the premise of revitalization is to bring a place back to life, to recycle the space, so to speak, to make it attractive again. An interesting example is the Mill Island in Bydgoszcz - a place that was frequented by high school students going on truancy, and which has been revitalized. Kacper Poblocki, a Bydgoszcz resident, in the debate "Is public space really public? The city from a class perspective," expressed his surprise at the diversity of people who frequented the place a decade ago. One could meet both older and younger people, children, couples. This was a marked change from earlier years, when the public space was more homogeneous and dominated by young people. He also mentions his experience in the Netherlands, where he noticed that bars were frequented by people of all ages, which was new to him compared to Poland. He stresses that at that time the Mill Island became a welcoming place for everyone, without commercial pressure, with a playground for children, which attracted different social groups and made them feel comfortable there.

Hostile architecture

The debate got me thinking about the informal rules that govern public spaces and how different groups of people use them. Is public space really public? In terms of legal understanding, yes - there is no question of exclusion. Our laws provide us with equal access, regardless of background. However, there is a lot of informal activity, spatial whispers that say we are uninvited here.

Przykład hostile architecture - kolce uniemożliwiające przysiadanie

Example of hostile architecture - spikes preventing squatting

© Magdalena Milert

A great example of this is hostile architecture , which can be translated as hostile architecture. It's a design strategy that uses elements to intentionally manage behavior. It is usually directed at people who use or rely on public space more than others, such as youth, the poor and people in crisis of homelessness. We should associate it with elements such as spikes on flat surfaces that make squatting and sleeping in these places impossible, and benches with armrests positioned to prevent people from lying on them work similarly. Other solutions include sloping window sills that make sitting impossible, or skatestops - elements that prevent people from being able to ride skateboards, placed on benches, railings and walls. Sometimes the strategy of hostile architecture is not based on adding features, but on removing them. Fredrik Edin, author of "Den vanligaste formen av exkluderande design" on exclusionary design, argues that removal is the most common type of exclusionary design, where, for example, benches used by the public are removed precisely because... they are used.

Przykład hostile architecture

Example of hostile architecture

© Magdalena Milert

Deterrent architecture can also be sound. In the UK[1] and Germany[2], so-called "anti-vagrancy devices" have been installed to preclude young people from staying in specific places. The devices emit a monotonous pulsating acoustic signal with a sound pressure of 75-95 decibels and a frequency range of 16-18.5 kHz. This type of noise is audible to almost all young people under the age of 20, but is barely perceptible to those over the age of 25. In 2008, the National Autistic Society in the UK said it was "very concerned" about the possible harmful effects of these devices on people with autism[3]. Because people on the spectrum often have auditory hypersensitivity, they may react more intensely to the sound, especially if they are younger than 25. Autism can also affect communication skills, so some people may not be able to communicate their discomfort to caregivers. In 2008, a supermarket in Longridge, England, removed the device after a campaign by autistic 19-year-old Paul Brookfield, who was in pain due to hypersensitivity to the sound[4]. The case was similar for people who had recently undergone ear surgery.

Accessibility a plus

Progress is being made in eliminating architectural barriers, with a law recently coming into effect mandating the adaptation of public facilities for people with disabilities. Changes in the approach to urban development are being marked, with the negative effects of the previous modernist paradigm, such as the construction of urban highways. Attention is drawn to the improvement in the state of public space compared to a dozen years ago, but places for development are still evident, especially if we separate out the perceptions of different cities. For example, the shrinkage of county cities is evident, while large cities, especially Warsaw, are growing. At the same time, renovated spaces are often smoothed out, and people, all too begging for the term, incompatible with such a place, are removed from it by an invisible hand. Inequality can also be seen in the context of housing policy. In the debate, this aspect was pointed out by Dr. Lukasz Drozda, a political scientist and urban planner, author of the book "Holes in the Ground. Pathfinder in Poland".

Inequality can be seen in homes

Real estate is becoming increasingly unaffordable in cities, leading to greater contrasts between land or apartment owners and those forced to live in the suburbs. A house near the city used to be an idyllic image of a dream-fulfilling place with more space, a garden, a terrace. Nowadays, it is losing this idyllic character, because to a terraced house in a doe urbanism is no longer moved out by those who dream of such a house, only by those who are only so creditworthy. The farther away from the city, the cheaper it is, so there is an economic push of social groups. The real estate market in metropolitan areas focuses on speculation, and this phenomenon creates vacancies. This can lead to a shortage of workers in key urban institutions, especially in education. The lack of housing availability in large cities leads to social homogenization and hinders the influx of new residents, which can cause serious social inequalities. In view of this, the problem of the cost of living in the city is becoming increasingly apparent in various universities, and the lack of a public housing policy may further exacerbate this situation. In the debate, Drozda also expressed concerns about the functioning of cities in Poland, pointing to the need for greater attention from local governments to housing policy. What is needed is a shift of attention from transportation to the cost of living and the availability of housing.

Przestrzeń publiczna na przedmieściach

Public space in the suburbs

© Magdalena Milert

Following the theme of the conversation, we can say that in the city you can see where class aspirations show up. This shows up most strongly in the creation of prestige spaces. Fenced neighborhoods are a great example - it is the one who puts up a fence that separates himself from the rest. Some time ago, the Internet circulated a photo of a placard on a playground, which said that it is forbidden to use the playground for children from outside the estate. While at the level of understanding of bearing the costs of damage by the community such an argument is understandable, at the level of understanding that by doing so one excludes the child's friends from kindergarten or school from playing together, and the child is taught that there are better and worse - it seems abstract.

Public space happens to be public

"Is public space really public? The city from a classroom perspective" - was the title of the debate. It would seem that classism in the 21st century, in the center of Europe, is an impossible thing. However, aren't we duplicating certain patterns, but with white gloves? We want cities that are nice, safe, probably also culturally rich, cherishing their monuments, traditions. In this process, however, we often make the mistake of removing from its streets those who do not fit into our notion of a revitalized space.

Finally, it is worth quoting after Poblocki that academic discussion often focuses on large cities, but statistically most people live in small towns and urbanized villages, which are not the focus of the debate. In Poland, the rural landscape is becoming increasingly urbanized, which is a major challenge, especially from a climate perspective. It is worth noting the increasing urbanization of the countryside, which is one of the biggest processes of the last 30-40 years. It is necessary to go beyond a discussion focused only on cities and also consider metropolitan areas and small towns, where most people live. Is public space as accessible there?

Magdalena Milert





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