Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2005


Urban Public Space and the Right to the City

Lecturer: Professor Don Mitchell,
Department of Geography,
Maxwell School at Syracuse University, USA

Main disciplines: Human Geography, Sociology

Dates: 25 - 29 July 2005
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants
 

Participants: Ole Christian Aslaksen, Katrina Brown, Una Christophersen, Michail Galanakis, Jenny Gustafsson, Alasdair Jones, Anisya Khokhlova, Andres Kõnno, Salla Kuvaja, Inka Kaakinen, Henriette Madsen, Karol Mojkowski, Robert Mongwe, Dalia Mukhtar-Landgren, Lina Olsson, Susan Parham, Jenny Rosenkvist, Paul Scheibelhofer, Mikkel Schönning Sörensen, Birgitte Bundesen Svarre, Masumi Takeuchi, Kaan Tasbasi, Catharina Thörn, Huse Tone, Moa Tunström, Michaël Van Droogenbroeck, Francoise Micheline van Riemsdijk, Mattias Wahlström, Nina Waara. Professor: Don Mitchell, Maxwell School at Syracuse University, USA.

 

Objectives
This course will explore both theories about and struggles over public space. It will provide a critical perspective on the contemporary literature on public space in geography (as well as the literature in architecture, sociology, political theory, etc. that geographers draw on). Through theoretical argument and the examination of specific cases in North America, Europe and (to a much lesser extent) Asia, it will explore the nature of struggles over public space and why they matter to the contemporary geography of the city.

The starting assumption is that public space in the city is an achievement, not a given. It is something that is struggled for and struggled over. Political theorists have argued over the role of the public sphere in a democratic polity; in this course we will explore why the public sphere must always be grounded in public space - and therefore how access to, and control over, public space shows us - materially - the nature of, and possibilities for, justice in the contemporary city. We will ask:

By the end of the week, students will have a good grounding in the recent literature on public space in geography and related fields, a deeper understanding of how debates about public space have developed, the relationship between law and geography in the liberal capitalist state, the centrality of public space to urbanism, and the importance of struggles over public space for the struggles of social movements in public space.

Basic Course Texts (please obtain and read in advance):

Outline of Lectures

Monday Sessions: Why Does Public Space Matter

Lecture 1: Context 1: Why Public Space
This first lecture will introduce the idea of public space and examine the role it plays in political theory, geography, and our understandings of urban life. It will examine the relationship between the notion of the public sphere in democratic/social justice theory and actually existing public spaces.

Essential Readings:

Other Readings:

Lecture 2: Context 2: The Right to the City: Struggles for Inclusion/Forces of Exclusion
The right to the city is never guaranteed. It is struggled for and sometimes won. Public space is both a site of and a scene for contestation. And within this contestation the ideal of a truly open public space confronts a strong and complex desire for order and control in city spaces. To the degree that public spaces have been opened, and the right to the city has been won, it has been done so by marginalized groups struggling for inclusion - for spaces for representation - and struggling against strong forces of exclusion. This lecture will examine Lefebvre's notion of "the right to the city" in the context of these sorts of struggles. I will argue that such struggles over the right to the city (and who has it) constructs the material landscape of justice in contemporary urban society.

Essential Readings:

Other Readings:


Tuesday Sessions: The Debates: How is Public Space Changing (and Why)

Lecture 3: Debates 1: The End of Public Space?
Geographers' interest in public space blossomed around a set of debates concerning the "end of public space" in American and European Cities in the late 1980s/early 1990s. These debates exposed and explored the increasing privatization of public space - or more accurately of the spaces of public life. This lecture will examine those debates and show how they gave birth to a vibrant literature in geography that is not at all unitary in its answer to the question of whether we have seen the end of public space.

Essential Readings:

Other Readings:

Lecture 4: Debates 2: Space or Property? Understanding Changing Regimes of Governance
While much research has examined the privatization of public space and its implications for urban life, relatively little, surprisingly, has focused on changing regimes of property (privatization in its most literal senses), and the implication of these changing regimes for urban governance. The changing nature and use of property is central to the creation neo-liberal urbanism and to the forms of governance that neo-liberalism gives rise to. In turn, the way that property operates - and is valued - is now a central battleground in the struggle for public space and the right to the city.

Essential Readings:

Other Readings:


Wednesday Sessions: The Consequences (I): Homelessness, Marginality, and Law's Geography

Lecture 5: The Consequences 1: The Right "To Be"
Law scholar Jeremy Waldron argues that the issue of homelessness is - among all the other things it is - an issue of freedom. This is because in a world where private property regimes predominate, the very space where the homeless - who are protected by no private property rules - may simply be is threatened. That space is the public space. This lecture will examine Waldron's argument in the context of European, American, and other policies and laws regarding the homeless. It explores the actually existing geography of freedom in contemporary cities.

Essential Readings:

Other Readings:

Lecture 6: The Consequences 2: The Americanization of Homelessness?
Homeless people's access to public space is a question of freedom; but seen from the other side the very presence of homeless people in public space seems threatening - to the safety, pleasure, and economic desires of other urban residents, tourists, and so forth. Cities in the US, therefore, have responded by instituting a range of "quality of life laws" that seek to regulate the behavior of homeless people in public space, if not to outlaw their presence altogether. This sometimes seems like a peculiarly American phenomenon. And yet the structural transformations of urban space economies and welfare systems that give rise to large numbers of homeless street people are globalizing. With this globalization of an American-style neoliberal economic regime, is there also an "Americanization" of homelessness in non-US cities? This lecture takes a critical look at this question.

Essential Readings:


Thursday Sessions: The Consequences (II): Laws, Geography and the Politics of and in Public Space

Lecture 7: The Consequences 3: Regulating Public Space to Silence Dissent
Law, geography, and the regulation of public space do not only converge around questions of freedom for homeless people; they also converge around questions of political freedom. Over the course of the twentieth century, the rise of liberal states in Europe and the US brought with it a certain liberalization of dissident speech. The content of political speech was less and less subject to official censorship . However, the regulation of public space (and often its transformation into private property) has become a primary means through which dissident speech is regulated - and often silenced. Protest "permit systems" have developed around the world as a "softer" means of regulating dissent (than, say, violent policing). Yet in the past decade, such permit systems have been breaking down. This lecture traces these developments, speculates on why permit systems are breaking down, and seeks to assess what all this means for urban citizenship and the right to the city.

Essential Readings:

Other readings:

 

Lecture 8: The Consequences 4: The S.U.V. Model of Citizenship and the Triumph of the Neo-Liberal Individual
One of the implications for urban citizenship and the right to the city of regulating dissent through the regulation of public space is the rise of a strong anti-urban ethos. In some ways, particularly (but not exclusively) in the U.S., new forms of public space regulation are leading to what could be called an S.U.V. (Sports Utility Vehicle) model of citizenship, that promotes the interests of enclosed, encapsulated individuals over the construction of an engaged public. This S.U.V. model of citizenship might, in some ways, be the ideal form of citizenship for neo-liberalism. For people of privilege, it is essentially a suburban and highly individualistic form of citizenship. This lecture explores this issue through a set of struggles over the right to public space in American cities, focusing particularly on the implications for urban life of how they have been resolved in the courts.
 

Essential Readings:

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Friday Sessions: The Right to the City

Lecture 9: Neo-liberal Order and the Control of Public Space: Hicks v. Virginia
To what extent does the right to the city - the right to inhabit, which includes simply the right to hang out - belong only to property owners? To what extent does law governing public space seek to transform the urban into the suburban? And what happens when "rights" are so narrowly construed as to include only formal political rights such that any wider right to the city is always subservient (for people, if not capital) to the formally political. Is there any hope for urban life? Is there any hope for a true, and broad, right to the city? By focusing on the legal history of a single case concerning the right to be on streets around a public housing project, this lecture raises these questions and suggests some places where there struggle for the right to the city is more necessary than ever.

Essential Readings:

Other Readings:

Lecture 10: Public Space and a Democratic Order
Arguments that contest the way urban public space is regulated often seem to be arguing against "order." In this concluding lecture I explore, on the contrary, the possibilities for a democratic order in and of public space - a democratic order that promotes, rather than detracts from, the right to the city.

Essential Readings:

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The Lecturer
Don Mitchell is a Professor and Chair of the Geography Department in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. After receiving his PhD in Geography from Rutgers University in 1992, he taught at the University of Colorado before moving to Syracuse. He is the author of The Lie of the Land: Migrant Workers and the California Landscape (1996); Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction (2000); and The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space (2003) as well as numerous articles on the geography of homelessness, labor, urban public space, and contemporary theories of culture. He is currently at work on a book called: The Bill of Rights: A Radical Geography. Mitchell is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and in 2002 held a Fulbright Fellowship in the Department for Sociology and Human Geography at the Universitu of Oslo. He is the founder and director of the People's Geography Project

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