By Caitlin Dilamani
Public spaces have a very ironic purpose. According to urban space architect Gavin Affleck in “Policing Public Space”, these creations are meant to be used and enjoyed rather than to get charged for. The $628 ticket that was issued to a college student for sitting on the granite ledge in a public park on the basis that he was not using urban equipment the way they should be used shows how extreme the cops are with surveillance. But whether they actually implement these laws for safety reasons or just to take advantage of the people could be questionable because whitnesses sometimes have to monitor the cops themselves if their behavior becomes too abusive. The surveillance cameras represent a barrier to privacy and take away from the pleasure of freely walking the streets.
What’s even more troubling to me, however, is the privatization of these public spaces. Contrary to the ideal of public space as an “agora” that “embraces freedom of assembly and expression”, it seems to be an extension of private space that denies certain people viewed as strangers the right to enter them. Instead of attracting citizens, they open their doors to isolated individuals engaged in individualistic pursuits and are considered to be sites of control. The uncomfortable barrel-shaped bus benches throughout the city of Skid Row that Mike Davis mentions in his “Fortress Los Angeles” article and the overhead sprinklers programmed to pour down at random times of the night to keep homeless people from camping in the park reveal how these spaces have time restrictions when they should really be open to anyone for unlimited use. The construction of the soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park by Major League Soccer clearly proves this private ownership of public space and the elimination of undesirables with a fee that the lower class wouldn’t be able to afford. Due to the power claims that are sparked by democratic notions, it is these private individuals who have defeated the purpose of public spaces through their perceived individual liberty and have made them more fake than ever.