Oculus - Spring 2014 - (Page 24)
(left) In September 2012, the Free University hosted more than 100 workshops and free educational events "occupying" Madison Square Park.
In varied ways, public spaces
still provide the political and
symbolic places for public
BY SETHA LOW, MANISSA MCCLEAVE
MAHARAWAL, AND DIMITRIS DALAKOGLOU
hy is the design and preservation of public space
so crucial today? Public space is important as open
space, a place to breathe within the dense fabric of
the city, and as a frame for the architectural urban context.
But its civic purposes and symbolic meanings offer the
greatest resonance. An emphasis on democratic practices
has emerged because of the spatial relationship between
public space and the public sphere. Social movements
and political uprisings belie arguments that public space
and the public sphere have ever been separated. The Arab
Spring and global Occupy movements drew inspiration
from the jubilant atmosphere and contagious energy of the
crowds, but also from the urban design and significance of
the public spaces where they occurred. If the public sphere,
as described by German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen
Habermas, is "the sphere of private people coming together
as a public," its emergence has an architectural and spatial
context as well as a history of social meanings.
Public space and the public sphere represent conjoined
arenas of social and political contest and struggle, grounded
Oculus Spring 2014
in the planning and design of a city. Consider public space
as a location for manifesting dissent, made important when
the public sphere is characterized by political exclusion.
In reaction to their exclusion, people take to the streets or
square to express their right to participation and representation. Democratic politics is about making dissent visible
and widening the public sphere to include diverse publics
Public space provides the political and symbolic space
for public debate also found in cafés and the media, and
on the Internet - the physical and virtual places where
the public sphere is located. American philosopher, psychologist, and educator John Dewey's idea that democracy
works through the cultivation of shared understandings
through diverse voices is expressed through the design of
public spaces where people can be recognized and politically active. These moments of openness, however, are also
moments of contestation. The following examples illustrate
how public space produces this expanded public sphere:
THE FREE UNIVERSITY AT MADISON SQUARE PARK
Madison Square Park began as the first potter's field in
New York City in 1686, and became a public park in 1847. In
the late 19th century it was the center of an elite neighborhood and important commercial district. William Grant and
Ignatz Pilat redesigned the park in 1870 with formal carriage
paths and pastoral landscape elements to frame the area's
elegant mansions and architecturally acclaimed buildings.
In the 1990s it was renovated with funds raised by the Madison Square Park Conservancy to restore its 1870 design.
On September 18, 2012, the day after the one-year Occupy anniversary, the Free University hosted more than
100 workshops and free educational events "occupying"
Madison Square Park. Classes included the gift economy,
debt, how to "cop-watch," what it means to "occupy" space,
horizontal pedagogy, direct action tactics, social-movement
building, and non-violence. These were held alongside university courses led by professors who moved their regular
classes to the park and opened them to the public.
The goal was to build an intentional space of radical free
education in an existing public space. Considerable thought
went into how the design elements of the park would be
used to accommodate activities. The southern side was
avoided because it was crowded and noisy. The curvilinear
paths of the 1870 design provided landscaped "rooms"
where groups of varying sizes could comfortably gather. On
the open lawn, yoga and capoeira classes took place, and a
Care station was set up with blankets, food, books, and artsand-crafts supplies. On the north side around the fountain
and on the steps in front of the Admiral David Farragut
Monument, large general assemblies were held.
Throughout the week, the park's everyday uses were
transformed as were those at Zuccotti Park during Occupy
Civic Spirit: Civic Visions
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2014
Letter From the President
Letter From the Editor
Center for Architecture
Some Blocks Over
Opener: Open to the Public: Civic Space Now
The Search for the Soul of Cities
A Different Tale of Two Cities
Public Space Reasserts Its Political Role
Gatherings of One
Time to Welcome Woonerfs
Redesigning the Crossroads of the World
A Magical Place on the Water
How to Remember a Plague
Sustainable Models for a Just City
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Spring 2014
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