Talk for Article "The rise of privately-owned public spaces"

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    An interesting example of the non-transparent way private owners regulate open spaces at

    St Paul’s Cathedral own the space just outside the cathedral. In 2011, they welcomed Occupy London to the space to set up a protest camp, which eventually stayed for three months, . In 2018, they had a preacher arrested for reading the Bible there — “The security staff were not happy for me to read it as they claimed I was on private property.”

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    “Owen Hatherley, author of Trans-Europe Express, argues that POPS represent “the return of how cities were developed before the introduction of democratic local government,” when public squares were fenced off and their access regulated.”

    If the last phrase, “public squares were fenced off and their access regulated” is a quote from Hatherley, it should be put in quotaton marks. Otherwise, if it is intended to be WT speaking, it is misleading. In modern England, roughly speaking, every piece of land is owned by someone or some body. Public open spaces in towns are typically owned by the local council, although in villages they are often owned by a private estate but subject to extensive legal rights by “commoners”, a group of people which may well include most or all of the local residents. In many towns the public open spaces were initially developed by private developers who bought up land, laid it out for housing and other purposes including open spaces, and controlled access to those open spaces by restricting it to residents of neighbouring properties, or people who had bought tickets or some other mechanisms designed of course to produce a profit the developer. Typically over the years most although not all of these open spaces in towns were bought out by the local council and made free to the public by the council as owner. The notion that they were originally in some form of public ownership and then somehow taken over by private owners (“fenced off and regulated”) applies more to common agricultural land and the Enclosures Acts than it does to urban development. Even today there is tension between the councils as owners of open spaces and the wishes of the residents — for example, councils may make money allowing events to be held on “their” spaces at the expense of restricting public access. In England at least there is basically no notion of completely unowned land, or land that is in the ownership of “the people” as such.

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      Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for your very detailed comment. You’re absolutely right, of course. As some of my interviewees and you correctly pointed out, it is of course wrong to think of all land having ever been in public ownership; cities have always been made up of a mix of private and public land, including public spaces.

      The point Hatherley was making (which in the article is a slight paraphrase and therefore not in quotes) was, I believe, that some public spaces in the UK, including those owned by state bodies, were inaccessible or hostile to many people, before the introduction of democratic government, when councils were forced by political pressures to open up their public spaces. It’s not a case of ownership but of regulated access.

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