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Public Space in the Post-Capitalist City

Part 2 Dissertation 2012
Martin Baillie
University of Dundee, UK
The challenge and necessity of providing a sustainable urban environment and society has been greatly increased by the global financial crisis. The economic crisis runs deeper than negative growth and unemployment, if we allow our current economic model to be re-inflated at the behest of the global financial markets we only delay the realisation that the pursuit of self-interest and never ending ‘growth’ in our economies is by definition unsustainable and ultimately impossible on a planet of finite resources. This crisis has also highlighted the growing disillusionment with the current system of government, with the ‘Occupy’ movement providing a global revolutionary outlet to long-standing political scandals.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
Karl Marx, 1848.

The actions of the ‘Occupy’ protest, in New York and subsequently worldwide, mirror the recent ‘Arab Spring’ in their appropriation of symbolic ‘public’ space, social anthropologist David Graeber, on evaluating the popular uprisings in the Middle East, concluded that “the model that seemed to work was to take something that seemed to be public space, reclaim it, and build up an organization headquarters around that from which you can begin doing other things.” These active protests raise questions as to what constitutes public space in the contemporary city.

“There is no real political substance. Politics arises in what lies between men and it is established as a relationship.” Hannah Arendt.

Genuinely democratic and participatory approaches must be considered to the challenges facing society. With the future of private capital development looking increasingly uncertain and its benefit to society equally dubious an alternative model for creating communal public spaces must be explored. Architects must become activists in the drive to forge this new localised participatory system by engaging with the true owners of place and by establishing new models of community led development.

“Place studied without work or folk is a matter of atlases and maps. Folk without place and work are dead.” Patrick Geddes.

Martin Baillie

Helen O'Connor
Fergus Purdie
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