The Ultimate Freedom Zone

Task 2: Write a rationale of an intervention in public space, based on group work, academic and spatial research.

The scenarios:

  1. A fine day in Canary Wharf, everyone was enjoying their outdoor lunch. The brokers, the investors, the officers, the bankers and many other citizens of the major business district. Everyone but this homeless man whom was asked to leave his resting spot by a security guard.
  2. In a healthy democratic society, the right to peaceful public protest is essential. However, the Occupy activists were legally prevented to conduct a demonstration protest targeting financial institutions on Paternoster Square, which was the location of London Stock Exchange (Minton, 2011).

The reason why? 4 words: Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)

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The Pops Profiler, by Casa student Oliver Dawkins, shows privately owned public space in London’s Square Mile

Sociologist Richard Sennet has described POPS as the ‘dead public space’, not because they are not ‘enjoyable’, despite the ‘essence of conviviality, spontaneity, encounter and yes that little sprinkles of chaos, have been stripped out’, but ‘dead because the potential range of spatial engagement here can fit in a coffee cup’ (Sennett and Richard, 1988).

Discussing the issues around POPS, Anna Minton in “Ground Control:Fear and happiness in the Twenty-first-century city” indicated one key feature of the new ‘public-private’ developments as its function of social sorting (Minton, 2012). This means when a public place is privately owned, it’s governed to ensure only certain types of activities and certain types of people. This reminds me of the ‘marginalized group’ or ‘the other’ concept once brought to prominence by French philosopher Michael Foucault now becomes revenant to the contemporary context of the city. This groups, according to Anna, are typical ‘beggars’, ‘homeless’ and people who practice ‘skateboarding’ or ‘rollerblading’ (Minton, 2006).

While brainstorming for our public intervention plan, my group and I have conducted a list of POPS issues and reasons why people should be aware of it.

POPS issues:

  • heavily underused
  • ambiguous / invisible rule
  • excluding social groups/social sorting
  • dictating behaviours:  encouraging certain behaviours, while discouraging others
  • a threat for street politicians
  • risks of losing local character over corporate sterility

After identifying the point of intervention as Trafalgar Square, we decided to apply ‘The Autonomy Zone’ principle Using ‘The Autonomy Zone’ principle suggested in the ‘Beautiful Trouble: A Toolkit For Revolution’ for our public intervention.

*Points of intervention are specific places in a system where a targeted action can effectively interrupt the functioning of a system and open the way to change. By understanding these different points, organizers can develop a strategy that identifies the best places to intervene in order to have the greatest impact (Reinsborough  and Canning, 2012)

Located in Trafalgar Square, it will take form of a semi-opened mobile box called ‘The Ultimate Freedom Zone’ (UFZ), with function of a mini exhibition and learning space that provides people with information about POPS in London (Vasagar, 2012) as well as encourages them to do whatever they want within the zone: be it talking, sleeping, dancing, singing, or group meeting, etc. It will also feature an interactive quiz created by a group of journalists from The Guardian.

Have a look at the Private or Public – Can you spot the difference quiz here (Garret,2015)

Beyond the awareness of POPS, with UFZ, we also hope that it will serve as a discussion platform for everyone to generate solutions to unlock the full potential for social benefit and private economic growth.

POPs

A sketch of UFZ model 

Bibliography:

Minton, A. (2012) Ground control: Fear and happiness in the Twenty-first-century city. United Kingdom: Penguin Books.

Minton, A (2011). Private spaces are stifling protest. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/26/private-spaces-protest-occupy-london (Accessed 27 October 2015).

Minton, A (2006). The privatisation of public space. London: Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Garret, B (2015). The privatisation of cities’ public spaces is escalating. It is time to take a stand. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/04/pops-privately-owned-public-space-cities-direct-action (Accessed 27 October 2015).

Reinsborough, P & Canning, D (2012). Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox For Revolution. New York: OR Books.

Sennett, R. and Richard, S. (1988) The fall of public man: [on the social psychology of capitalism]. 1st edn. New York, NY: Random House USA

Vasagar, J (2012). Privately owned public space: where are they and who owns them? [Internet]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/jun/11/privately-owned-public-space-map (Accessed 27 October 2015).

List of images:

Dawkins, O. (no date) The Pops Profiler. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/04/pops-privately-owned-public-space-cities-direct-action (Accessed 27 October 2015).

 

 

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