An ideal city is open, civilising and democratic. Discuss how this ideal has been presented and its limitations. INTRODUCTION. “Public spaces in cites are seen as ‘a site that offers relief from the burdens of subjective life’ facilitating mutual engagement and so mutual obligation and loyalty” (Sennett 1990a 23-24 cited on Thrift and Amin 2002) But others would see city spaces as (Thrift and Amin 2002) suggest, as the generators of new-shared meanings, and which arise hybrid cultures by intermingling.
This essay will explore how the ‘ideal city’ has been presented by different authors and its limitations they found in return by exploring different issues and themes in their chapters. According to Dickens (Bleak House) ‘The city can be seen as a place of the mind that informs subsequent ideas, such as the city as frightening, dystopian, chaotic, illegible, filthy, or the city as exciting, pleasurable, radical, sophisticated and potentially liberating’.
For some writers such as Sennett (1974) cited on bridge and Watson (2002) western cultural characteristics influenced by industrial capitalism in the 17-18 century, have changed the public spaces and encouraged a retreat into the private realm of the family and friends, where public places were consists of cafes and etc where people’s discussions were open to scrutiny. But still, for Sennett, according to bridge and Watson (2000) heterogeneous public spaces and social diversity of cities have offered progressive social and civilising open and unpredictable encounters, which brings people from diverse backgrounds and cultures together.
According to him, disorder in public is something that aggravate the impulse, and therefore the freedom to be disorderly in public provokes more liveliness in public spaces, therefore the privatisation of the public space become mono-functional. As for Arendit, another writer, Sennett (1970) describes, public realm is a place where a person go beyond their social, racial and cultural differences into an equalization community, whether they are coloured, female or poor.
However, Sennett concluded on bridge and Watson (2000) that privatisation and the separation of certain groups have still continued in the decentralised city. Similarly, According to (Safdie ; Kohn 1997) Public spaces in cities have played a fundamental role throughout history. From the time that humans first defined private spaces, public spaces have served as places where people have come together to exchange ideas.
From the ancient Greek’s Agora to the Middle Ages’ Commons to early 20th century American urban streets and parks, public spaces have been centres for free speech and public discourse. City streets, parks, and public transportation were seen as places where one would encounter people who dressed and spoke differently, hear people expressing opinions, see people engaged in activities one had never seen before. The diversity that people were exposed to in these public spaces was eye opening, which led them to new ideas and to see beyond their insular world.
(Safdie ; Kohn (1997) Safdie and Kohn discuss the vitality of public spaces in cities before cars took over: ” Historical cities provided intense and active meeting places for commerce, the exchange of ideas, worship, and recreation. Even dictatorships produced a wide variety of spaces for formal and informal public gathering. People of diverse backgrounds came to, and lived in, the city, knowing that this conglomeration of people and the interaction offered by it would enrich their lives.
” (Safdie ; Kohn 1997, pp 12-13) Similarly (Graham and Marvin, 1996) have argued that through out history, cities have been regarded as the fulcrum of human communication, the place Of possibilities and opportunity, either economic or political. Public space, designed deliberately through streets, plazas and squares to support human interaction and political debate, and free from control of firms or the state, was one of crucial features of the renaissance and modern city.
According to Boyer (1994) Public, civic spaces and streets marked the passage from the defensive posture of the feudal society, based on castles to the squares and the streets of post-Renaissance towns and cities. As Craig Calhoun argues, “one of the most important social characteristics of cities is the provision of public spaces in which relative strangers can interact and observe each other, debate and learn politically, and grow psychologically from diverse contacts” (Calhoun 1986; 341).
As above mentioned examples, which shows sharing the physical space, as part of democratic open space, Beazley (2000) also discuss how public space in a city can also become a resource, especially as she talks about street boys of Yogyakarta where these boys come to these open realms looking for jobs, to sleep, for work and for other mutual meetings. According to the chapter (40) in (Bridge and Watson 2000), she discusses the construction of public and private life within public realm of the city.
However, according to (Bridge and Watson 2002) as Detsche discuss, ‘power defines urban space, as she discuss how constitution of public realm since ancient Greece, have had some sort of exclusion (example of being a democratic space), and she examines how artistic and urban ideologies were combined during the last decade to legitimise urban redevelopment programmes that claimed to be beneficial to all’, yet in reality Detsche argues, they tried to wipe out traditional working classes from the city and tried to support dominating groups such as white, middle class males (mostly).
Therefore Detsche (2000) calls for a democratic spatial critique that takes account of the conflicts that produce and maintain all spaces, including the space of politics itself. She pays lot of attention to public arts and argues that public art can collaborate with gentrifying planning practices to make places appear more public than they actually are, acting as a kind of public relations agent.
Even though an open civilise space would accept and give access to difference, diversity, exclusion and open contestations such as above mentioned in civilised society, ‘some may argue that urban public spaces are not so inclusive as they can be potentially progressive’ (Bridge and Watson 2000). For example unpredictable encounters, (as mentioned by Sennett) may not just result in positive outcomes, but also could result in conflicts (as mentioned by Deutche) or even threats, such as attacks and mugging may happen in public spaces, in one sense places where free access is allowed on the other hand, places where its not safe at all.
For example, As Beazley (2000) explain in her work, public space can also be seen as a place of temporary security, however with constant threats. Corresponding to the above argument, (Bridge and Watson 2000) summarise, that construction of certain identities in open public realms can emerge as a result of this relationship between open civilise realms, accessibility as well as the authorities certain groups/people may have in public realm. For example (Bridge and Watson 2000) as well as homeless person in contemporary society, there are the prostitutes and streetwalkers who challenged the public realm.
As for example, according to (Bridge and Watson 2000) ‘streets were seen as contradictory public places for women, as even though Victorian moralities kept women off the streets, they were also spaces of freedom for women’. Historically, women’s role in the public space of the city has been an unsure one. Walkowitz in (Bridge and Watson 2002) identify the ways in which women in public space were managed and regulated by social and economic interests, women were also subject to strict codes of conduct.
According to Walkowitz, in public women assumed to be rare and a source of danger for those men who gathered in streets, however in mental landscape, she argues, they occupied huge symbolic (sexual) position. According to walkkowitz (2002), in public prostitutes were seen as ‘corporal smells’ and animal passions that bourgeois male had rejected, as well as being the logo of divided city itself as they used to loiter in back alleys and major shopping districts, such as Kings cross (even today).
In one way they were also seen as lonely streetwalkers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Vidler (1993) had speculated that the condition of ‘agoraphobia’, the fear of open spaces, (which for Vidler, was basically female neurosis) must have linked to a self-conscious inner desire to walk the streets, to be streetwalkers (Vidler 1993, 35), because of the way they’ve been portrayed by society, being identified as prostitutes.
Even though this is an example of diverse groups associated in ideal democratic realms and how their identities being created, it also emphasise how prostitutes were seen as a potential source of disorder to the respectable public realm, while Wilson (2002) describes how bourgeois males had the freedom to move freely in society observing the diversity without getting involved was given because of his position in the society, being affluent as well as the gender (male).