Category Archives: places of congregation and informal sociability

Democratic space

It’s not an accident that we attach the adjective ‘democratic’ to either describe actual  public spaces, or to mark our aspirations for them.  Indeed, there’s a flotilla of warm words – ‘shared’, ‘communal’, ‘inclusive’, ‘accessible’ – that together act as a collective nod towards the features and atmosphere we believe a truly public, ‘public space’ should evoke.

In the background, no doubt, lurk images and ideas drawn from the Agora of classical Greece and the Athenian City-State, though its democracy was, by our proclaimed modern democratic standards, somewhat lacking in reach, in inclusivity.  Basically, if you were an Athenian bloke you were in the club; if not, then not.

It is however useful to notice that whilst by our ‘modern’ standards fifth century BCE Athenian democracy does not pass muster, its limitations were an overt, explicit, ‘in-your-face’ articulation of the very fabric of the political, social and economic structure of that society.  By way of contrast, visiting and sitting around in what can broadly be described as ‘public spaces’, I’m struck by just how difficult it is to create democratic spaces, how difficult it is to counter the forces and  influences that limit fulfilment of our democratic and inclusive aspirations.   These can include, often in potent negative mix:  forms of land ownership; demographics; socio-economic class; race, age and gender; forms of decision-making;  confused objectives; inappropriate design; mad, thought-neutering timescales; and the allure of fad and fashion . Continue reading

The limitations of compensatory provision

It’s that time of year.   More precisely, time of years.  That period which feels, for me at least, set apart from the year we have left;  but also semi-detached from the one we now notionally inhabit.  I have yet to press the ‘Go’ button for full throttle into 2014.

And in such circumstances, the mind idles.  Mine idles thus:

Working for a moment on the assumption there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, imagine then a world replete with adventure playgrounds, walking buses (I confess I find it hard to include the walking bus as a good thing; it seems to me a thoroughly bad initiative.  However, I’m bound to mention it in the interests of feigned neutrality),  play streets, pop-up playgrounds, playworkers a-swarm in parks and open spaces,  after-school clubs,  privatised ‘public’ shopping malls and whatever other forms of bounded, supervised space or service you may care to include. Continue reading

Deckchairs

In the southeast at least, fading summer departs with grace cut across by wet and windy bluster.   Autumn beckons.   But the sun shone last week, and in that lingering warmth I found myself in Vauxhall Gardens, site of the original Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens between around 1650 – 1850.

The historical gardens offered pleasures  more extensive than those available today, but the past few years have seen the Gardens reclaim one aspect of their former glory: people are using them again, as a through route, as a place to linger.  Within the Gardens is Vauxhall City Farm, a stalwart which, if memory serves, dates from the early 1980s.  But this is simply background to my actual subject: Deckchairs. Continue reading