Review of the Semester
Public: accessible, communal, community, free to all, not private, open/open to the public, unrestricted…etc
Private: concealed, isolated, not overlooked, retired, secluded, secret, separate, solitary, withdrawn…etc
Over the course of this semester I have found myself becoming more aware of the effects of Public Life on our Public Spaces. In Invisible Cities, Marko Polo informs Kublai Kahn that it is not a cities architecture which creates the spaces atmosphere, but the public life which lives within it – a statement which, now, I can completely agree with. For instance, walking through Canterbury at 6am would project a completely different atmosphere than if you were to walk through the streets at midday: Public Life can be used to describe and individual or a collection; as an individual, one may chose to project a persona of what they wish others to see. Whereas Public Life as a collective illustrates the effects people have on a space. To this effect, Canterbury at midday is a manifestation of the public’s actions. However, what is Public Space? In the past, public spaces would have been defined as gathering areas, often central spaces where clans/tribes would gather to eat, trade or entertain. But as cities began to develop the public were almost assigned specific areas such as parks, markets or high streets. Nowadays, society lives in an environment where commerce has aided the form and structure of our landscapes and as a result public spaces have once again altered. Today’s culture is one of high speed and international travel and as a result public transport is now one of the most frequented public spaces. And yet, unlike the park or the high street, these are public spaces where communication between two strangers is seen as an oddity.
On a different note, it can also be said that due to the gross development of the internet the modern day definitions of the term “Public Life” are starting to feel the strain. Due to social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube the activities of our private lives are very much in the public. In fact, this very post is a great example: once an essay assignment would only ever have been viewed by the eyes of the student and the teacher, however, posting it on Tumblr means that it can now be viewed across the whole world - our public lives occur less and less in the classical venues of the street, square and park, but flourish in the alternative, less formally designed venues.
Nevertheless, the publications of our private lives are opening up options for our Social Relationships. Over Easter I noticed that two different texts I had been reading shared one theme: Social Relationships. The first text, “A Night To Remember” (Walter Lord) - an account of the sinking of the Titanic – reminded me just how extreme social classes were a mere 100 years ago. A similar example, although this time set 30,000 years prior, can be found in the second text “The Earth’s Children” (Jean M Aurel) – a series which focuses on the period of co-existence between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. In both novels a clear class segregation can been seen, where the upper class is deemed the “more superior” than the rest and in doing so see them-selves as more important. The two novels share the idea that importance requires an abundance of space and grandeur: on the Titanic the richest were offered their own private decking area. Likewise, in “The Earth’s Children” the leaders of the tribes lived at the largest hearths with the biggest fires. Both these texts can be related to the Social Relationships of today. Although many of us may believe that the UK is segregation-free: political, public and private activities stand to prove otherwise.
A further example can be seen in Rem Koolhaas’ Junkspace, where here he discusses how our ability to travel globally is pulling our social relationships apart. This too can be seen in our day-to-day lives as we work on, write with, listen to objects made miles away by people we will probably never see in our lives. In class we discussed how production lines are causing disassociations between our Social Relationships.
Social relations are increasingly extended to people that are not physically there, and because “local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice verse” (Bohl & Lejeune, 2009)
All urban spaces have been formed around the public life and our social relationships. In the beginning one family found a particularly fertile piece of land and word spread to another family - a settlement grew up around them. As more families saw the benefits of this site and of being close to others a village grew. Trade in crops and livestock increased and a town immerged. Until finally, as the public welfare, population and diversity increased a city was formed. That is to say as we realised the potential of certain locations we leant to adapt and as a result civilisations grew up around us. Port cities such as Liverpool and London grew rapidly due to the fact that, as mobile individuals, we knew that through the sea we could travel farther and increase our commercial networks.
To conclude, in the 21st Century we live in a society where man has walked on the moon, travelled at 394 miles/hour and can even talk to others on the opposite side of the world: so surely we must either be living in or be extremely close to Utopia? No. Utopia, by definition, is no place, an imaginary state. It is therefore not possible - One man’s Utopia is another’s Dystopia. Robert Park once wrote that the city is “man’s most consistent and, on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live.” (Robert Park 1864-1944) However, without the idea of a Utopia Public Places and Public Spaces wouldn’t exist. Utopia is what keeps us alive: we strive to find our own Utopia and along the way goals are achieved and we find meanings in life.
Bohl, Charles C. & Lejeune, Jean- François (2009) Sitte, Hegemann and the Metropolis: Modern Civic Art and International Exchanges (Accessed on 07.05.12)
Public Life’s Affect on Public Spaces