Donnerstag, 23. August 2007

Space is a battleground ...

I am not feeling great today (fighting a cold) so I was relaxing over a nice slice of pizza on the beautiful street I live in tonight. It was wonderful. The street is lively, yet there is little car traffic, so little noise. The excitement comes from the diverse people passing by. Tonight, for example, there was a cute student couple, a tiny chocolate-coloured girl (proving that Nietzsche was right: mixing races creates the highest beauty). There were teachers discussing their students and tourists enthralled at having found this little gem of a neighbourhood (good on them, but I hope there won't be too many more ;-)). Trees line the street and give the street an 'Allee-character'. So, I was just about to forget my cough and idealize my neighbourhood when the waitress in one of my favourite bars (of all places!), chased away a couple eating pizza - from the new, quirky pizza place that opened recently - on "their bench". How petty. How stupdid. How crap.
But space, of course, is always contested - and increasinly privatized. Whenever I walk through cities I know well, I bore my companions by recounting the mass killings of beautiful spaces that the last few years of rampant urban capitalism have sprung upon us. On Edinburgh, I could write a whole book of obituaries for cafes and pubs that I once loved and that have since been shut down or, perhaps worse, been turned into theme pubs and/or bought up by chains. In Berlin - as a visiting American colleague remarked over lunch yesterday - there are now Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks bloody everywhere. They didn't used to exit 5-10 years ago. (Worse, some of my friends even love them!)
Berlin is also getting more and more malls built. Most people now visiting Potsdamer Platz - including myself, often enough - are not their to marvel at Enzo Piano's architecture or at an urban space created (if in a corporate image) on the most famous 'no man's land' the Cold War era knew. No, they - we - are there to shop at the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden with piped in music and rents that ensure that only big chain stores can offer "choice" to us hapless consumers ...
But space - especially high quality public space - is a good worth fighting for. I was most recently reminded of this in Calgary - where non-corporate space is hard to find (and when you find it, usually run down). I missed it. The lack of places to sit, observe and linger quite simply depressed me!
Democracy needs places where democratic interaction can take place. Democracy - no matter how many lively debates and exchanges happen on the web - needs public space. Let's fight for it. Let's make creating livable, human spaces - our 'war'.
P.S. The picture is a detail of a funky bus at the Edinburgh Festival. The people running it were quite possibly spaced out, but the slogan is still cool.

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