Public space: Change and occupation

By Uwe Jonas and Birgit Anna Schumacher








The development of the urban public space shows the history of the behaviour of the people that formed it. Nowadays the public space is understood as a process, in which special and social figures change in correspondence to one another. The role, function and the actual usage of the public space depend on social transformation processes, causing its change. But that the surrounding space equally forms human behaviour is known since Jane Jacobs' 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities' I 1 IJane Jacobs (1963). Tod und Leben großer amerikanischer Städte. Frankfurt/M. , and Alexander Mitscherlich's 'The Inhospitableness of the Cities' I 2 IAlexander Mitscherlich (1965). Die Unwirtlichkeit unserer Städte - Anstiftung zum Unfrieden. Frankfurt/M..

In the following we wish to examine the cause and effect of this interplay - and of course we will also try to avoid losing contact to the city, in which 'Okkupation' will take place.



Public space and the curse of individualisation and de-traditionalisation


Let's start with the social phenomenom of individualisation and de-traditionalisation, which are due to the change. They have become slogans and have left their traces throughout of the public space like stigmata. This is obvious to everyone. Already in the 1970s did the American urban-sociologist Richard Sennett lament the displacement of the public from the public space in favour for its 'intimisation' in his much acclaimed book 'The Fall of Public Man' I 3 IRichard Sennett (2002). 'The Fall of Public Man' published in 1974 in New York: Public space would be nothing less than the self-projection by individuals with an (exaggerated) strive for self-realization. The public space would transform to a 'narcissistic city space'. This phenomenon of public space was signified through its prestige-searching surface design in order to achieve acknowledgement and admiration, through its greater importance compared to bordering spaces and through its emphasis on emotional entertainment qualities. In short: The design attempts within the 'narcissistic city space' would degenerate to perfectionist superiority gestures. In further would the 'narcissistic city space' indeed emphasize its accessibility for all social groups, but in reality it was confronted by the loss of social ties.
According to Sennett would the public city space suffer under its fluctuation of qualities - from festivalisation to marginalisation - and overestimate its social competence for integration. Social minorities were not approached openly but with strong defensive reaction. These scenarios described by Sennett can be also seen and acknowledged in Berlin that is becoming a metropolis. Our question is whether it would not be worth making a greater distinction between anonymity and privacy - which is different from Sennett's postulated 'intimisation'. After all, individual privacy in the public space does not in any way lead to an anonymisation of the space but creates liveliness, instead. The people, who try to enliven public space and get rid of the tristesse, even seek more privacy. This is shown in an example from Hannover: In 1998 had the specialist jury of an architecture-competition for a new residential area in Kronsberg favoured a design for a spacious open square that emphasized the artistic innovative idea of form and the accessibility of the square. But in contrast to this, did the citizens that were involved in the procedure wish for a 'Mediterranean square atmosphere with trees, bushes, benches and fountains' and preferred 'small niches with benches to relax on that were surrounded by trees of all kinds', 'colourful paving' and ' pleasant lighting' rather than 'a vast and empty space'. I 4 IThe Kronsberger example can be looked up in Herbert Schubert's 'Städischer Raum und Verhalten. Zu einer integrierten Theorie des öffentlichen Raumes'. (2000) Opladen, p. 53 and following.Sennett would have interpreted this wish for privacy as a need brought up by a narcissistic self-representation. Obviously did an open space after the agora-principle, that constituted the social connection of the citizens and by that relates to an (antiquated) ideal of a spatially manifested political public, not correspond with the spatial idea of the people in Hannover that wished to en-'liven' their square without meeting as a community.

Another way of privately using public space is using it as surface for various sports like skateboarding, BMX or break-dance. 'Le Parcours' I 5 I'Le Parcours' is a movement originated in the suburbs of Paris which uses the architecture at hand as an obstacle course. By sportively surmounting given building structures, Le Parcours focuses less on spectacular stunts, high jumps or similar, but on an utmost elegant and fluent sequence of movements. Since founded in France, groups were also formed in other European countries, that organise international encounters and communicate via internet platforms (please see and ).. These were specifically designed for the re-using of areas, which are either public or private, but open to the public. Sports enthusiastic youths with a strong tendency to sub-cultural groupings and dynamics hang around in these areas. All kinds of scenes, from sport, culture (e.g. graffiti, hip hop/rap) and politics (such as 'Reclaim the streets' I 6 I'Reclaim the streets' is an international movement to create 'non colonised spaces': Public spaces, mainly streets, are occupied with festivals. This initially hedonistic seeming tendency, which also is connected to parts of the techno movement, obviously shows its political ambitions by its demand for free spaces. This tendency even may turn radical, e.g. in some cases occupied streets were broken up by no means. (cf. Naomi Klein [2001]. No Logo! O.O., p. 321 and following) ) are connected with each other, in the way that they have a common demand to (re-)annex the living and housing area.

Even if those sports are long welcomed into the image making of big sport labels does the occupation of areas remain viewed as a subversive action. In this way, are concrete and steel structures, which cities have purposely set up to interrupt or inhibit the sportive use of public space, honoured as a further challenge by the youths. I 7 Icf. Frank Keil: Vergesst die In-Viertel. In: Frankfurter Rundschau from 9th January 2004. Thomas Blume describes the same: ' The city as an area for traffic is transformed into a playing field by the skater and is de-regulated again and again, but not without conflicts, like it usually is with demonstrations and karneval parades. Skaters are testing the potency of city spaces to function as public spaces in a special way. Within a technically dominated and functionally organised culture are they publicly cultivating an archaic body-art. I 8 IThorsten Blume (2001). Tempo oder die Welt gerät vollständig aus den Fugen. In: Regina Bittner (Hg.): Urbane Paradiese. Zur Kulturgeschichte modernen Vergnügens. Frankfurt/M., p. 51.


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Flexibility and mobility - do singles enliven the public space?


De-traditionalisation and individualisation are well connected to the dictum of flexibility and mobility. The discourse arose in Germany because of the living and housing standard of singles not being attached to a specific place. The ethnologist Elisabeth Katschnig-Fasch made researches to this phenomenon and its effects. In this account, she examined the use of urban public space and the attitude towards it. Her conclusion was, that singles had given up social attachments, as well as those towards actual space of residence, due to their inner and outer search for experiences. As 'post-modern city nomads' would they use the city as backdrop for their own performance and as a stage for their self-production. As a result, their acquirement for living space would break up the urban-specific division of two spheres, i.e. private and public life: Singles occupy the urban space by turning it into their living-room, into their representational, playing and casual working area. 'They not only live in their own four walls, but in the city space', the author writes, ' They are everywhere. Their space is the public, whether in the internet, or in the flat, in the café or on the mobile phone. According to Sennett's dictum on the 'intimisation' of the public space, it seems as if with the singles the urban crisis had been overcome, the functional modernity as well as the narrowness of the functional nuclear family.' I 9 IElisabeth Katschnig-Fasch (2000). Wohnen und Wohnkultur im Wandel. In Kokot u.a. (Hrsg.). Kulturwissenschaftliche Stadtforschung (Kulturanalyses Bd. 3 des Instituts für Ethnologie der Universität Hamburg). Berlin, p. 134.

This tendency is increased by technical innovations, such as the spreading of WLAN-areas (Wireless Local Area Networks), in which it is possible to surf the internet with a high data transfer rate with an accordingly equipped notebook (standard acquired equipment at present). Where this only used to be possible on trade fairs, in airports or on the campus of advanced appearing universities, even cafés advertise their WLAN-connection in Berlin, nowadays.

Indeed these as 'post-modern city nomads' above characterized (mainly well-off) singles enliven the public space such as parks and cafés, but usually only those spaces, which are suitable for any self-production or for work. By this they admittedly contribute partially to a (re-)enlivenment of the public space, but their performing only takes place on their own chosen - mainly changing - areas. This temporary enlivenment of 'hip'-regarded streets or exclusive cafés, bars, lounges, etc. is in fact a potential risk for social segmenting, which can even escalate into gentrification of certain areas. Not even the urban nightlife is enhanced through them, at least not its 'dark' side. For this, including its 'unpredictable' character, is erased in the nightlife of metropolis. Gerd Held explains this development with 'a risen intolerance towards frictions, distortions, nuisances and shocks, which are most characteristic for a conurbation. I 10 IGerd Held (2001). Stadtleuten - Urbane Kunstwelten in der Tradition der Aufklärung. In: Regina Bittner (Hg,): Urbane Paradiese. Zur Kulturgeschichte modernen Vergnügens. Frankfurt/M., p.245. This is not an effect of lacking differentiation or an increasing uniformation of people paralysed by their individualisation. Instead their environment becomes more and more manifold and colourful. 'Instead there is a lack, which is the main difference to the 'roaring twenties', of a concretion of all elements into an equivalent public. Not meaning that no form of public exist, at all, but the dominating structures are more or less intended for communication, visibility and transparency, which demands less of people's tolerance. As a result out of this, no intensification is made possible, which is caused by a public nightlife and its 'friction' and tentative attempts of behaviour. Since these forms are predominated by fear, all is about tolerance and courage. In a society, in which late opening hours of beer gardens still cause resistance of sleep-seeking residents in metropolitan inner cities - and this demand has even been politically standardized - the problem of a sleepy nightlife cannot be put upon outer enemies, i.e. 'technocracy'. I 11 Iebd.


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Does public space function as a social bond?


If privacy takes place in public spaces, but is gained no more through the interchange of public, does then the public spaces lose not only their political, but also their local function? If the codex of behaviour is increasingly been shifted from the surrounding bonds to the self-control of each individual, does then the connection of a regulating public gradually disappear, i.e. the social bond of people to one another? In 1962 Jürgen Habermas made a historical survey on 'the change of public structure' and had predicted its breakdown. By that he had made the phenomen of urbanisation, namely the alienation and retreat of the individual from public, also responsible for the structural change of cities. I 12 IJürgen Habermas (1962). Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Untersuchung zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. Darmstadt/Neuwied More than 30 years on does the architect and city-planer Andreas Feldtkeller from Thübingen write the book 'Die zweckentfremdete Stadt'. I 13 IAndreas Feldtkeller (1994). Die zweckentfremdete Stadt. Wider die Zerstörung des öffentlichen Raums. Frankfurt/M./New York In the following years this became the bible for modern city-planers. In his book, Andreas Feldtkeller describes the increasing re-shaping and re-defining of cities - and their public space in specific. In his eyes modern city planing and social break down are directly connected to each other: In the way that cities are smoothened and colourfully enhanced, do in the same indications of indivualisation, exclusion and aggression increase. Public spaces are no more used publicly, because these spaces do not offer their citizens and their representatives any room to meet with their public affairs. Taking part at public life means nothing less than flat hunting, shuttle service and shopping. Too long had the city planning ignored a better spacial inter-structure of work, living and recuperation, which in fact means the inter-structure of public and private.

Recently, there are indeed structural concepts, that try to combine the working- and living spheres, for instance if in modern office-buildings shopping- and service-malls are integrated. These concepts catch up with a trend, that origins from propagandised 'work-around-the clock' employment by the new economy-euphoria and lead to a (more or less enforced) merging of work-and private sphere. But these pretty all-inclusive-buildings appear model-like islands surrounded by public space, indeed. By no means, has this been intended by their planers. In the 'old' public space retailers have to close down their shops, because chain-store owners in the malls ruin their prices. And due to the promising concept of malls, which is to make shopping an entertaining experience, obviously gets well receipted. The fact that, these spaces appear public, but in real obey the rules of their private owners, leads on to the subject of segregation. Finally, this involves two further aspects for the public city space, within the pseudo-public space of the promising sounding 'arcades', 'forums' and 'passages': the surveillance and control.


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The private public space: the city as a mall


Through reoccurring major projects - such as American-style shopping-arcades and malls - is a privately secluded public sphere build for a consumer- and leisure-orientated clientele and introduced as a new form of public sphere. This separates and segregates, since it is financed, designed, controlled and replaced by private investors. Even Walter Benjamin described in his 'Passagenwerk', a 'shock' over the disappearance of the public space in connection with the increasing social mobility. Through the city-space's orientation towards consuming has the function of the city-space as place of just being become obsolete. The 'theatrum mundi' becomes a 'theatrum konsumendi'. I 14 Icf. Walter Benjamin (new edition 1991). Das Passagenwerk. Frankfurt/M.

The American shopping-malls of today combine shopping- and virtual entertainment-worlds, which are endlessly reformulated by event-managers and sometimes made into true copies of European classics: the Rive Gauche in Paris, the pedestrian area in Heidelberg, the Roman Via Veneto or the Maximillianstraße in Munich. Meanwhile, trend researchers assert that the mall-concepts try to create a so-called 'third space', defining home as the 'first space', work as the 'second space' and leisure as the 'third space'. The shopping malls or entertainment centres should become just that 'third space' by, in the future, offering a growing cultural variety. The difference of commerce and culture slowly dissolves and brings up the following question: Am I consuming or am I observing culture? Though this development is more advanced in the USA, is Berlin also aware of the problem that it has taken on this trend. On this account has the Senate building director Hans Stimmann pointed out years ago, that the arcades and shopping centres 'devalue streets to their simple function for traffic. The public space is more or less drawn from the city and into its buildings and, as a consequence of this, privatised' I 15 Icf. Uwe Rada: Kann man in der Passage küssen? In: die tageszeitung from 2.8.1996 . What happens, then, with the city space that is compulsively freed from its original function? It seems as if even the city space turns more and more into a mall, since it is widely dominated by chain store owners (retailers can hardly survive!) Commodities and service-offers are increasingly homogenised. As a last consequence of this, the city will turn its structural and commercial gearing into the model of shopping malls. And as the very last consequence, inherit its rules and control mechanisms.

'Today, private malls and shopping arcades set a standard of furnishing, materials and hygiene that is copied by the public space', states the journalist Robert Kaltenbrunner. 'What at first seems positive, in truth holds the risk for stressing the indirect functional loss of the remaining public space. The public space simply cannot compete with the sheer quantity of privatised areas: the interest of being in this space vanishes; it's importance for communication disappears, it turn shabby and unattractive and degenerates into a reserve for excluded section of population.
This development increases by itself. The less attractive the classical city-space becomes, the more it is avoided and the more requested becomes the safe and secluded, staged and public space.' I 16 IRobert Kaltenbrunner: So wie Heino singt. In: Frankfurter Rundschau from 2.9.2003

Not everything seems lost: The youth gives new hope. A good examples for future development is the techno-movement of the beginning 1980ies and beginning 1990ies. This detected 'no-man's land' (i.e.motorway-underpass, industrial waste lands, etc.), took over these spaces - mostly for a short period of time - and turned it into a public space. This means, that the public space may be looked upon as an ever-changing space, rather than a static unit. It might be possible for the future to have a 'protected space' next to an open up 'no-man's land', though it should be noted, that the protected areas in worst case could become grotesque and one would move from one to the other, in future: 'From the gated community by private car to the private office park, from there over a skywalk to the shopping mall, on weekends to theme parks and holiday in the holiday club.' I 17 IJan Wehrheim (2002). Die überwachte Stadt. Stadt, Raum und Gesellschaft,Volume 17. Opladen, p.218

To return to the malls and entertainment centres. It should be alarming, that they produce a certain type of public, which focuses on the small-town clischées: no aggression, no beggars, none homeless. This model that inspired the Disney Company beginning of the 1990ies to set up a small-town, that tried to meet entirely all petit bourgeois virtues and make all owners submit to strict rules. In Germany the private railway-company Bahn AG tried to copy the Disney-model. In opposite to its claim, to form railway-stations into 'urban market places and communication areas' they in real try to manifest norms, that are typical for small-towns: conform behaviour standards, high social control and certainly no mess.' I 18 Icf. Klaus Ronneberger (2000). Die neofeudale Erlebnisstadt. In: Micahel Häupl (Hg.): Das Neue und die Stadt. Wien , page 130


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Surveillance and control


The private public space, to which no 'unwanted' persons have access, protect those who are welcome there. This is the 'social' attitude that legitimises the usage of American 'plazas', although they, in first place, function as an instrument of image improvement for the private companies that form and finance them. The plazas, which are made available in middle of urban hectic rush, such as Bryant Parc or Trump Tower Plaza in Manhattan, are therefore very popular among many New Yorkers. With such 'gifts' to the public - whether they have been 'transferred' to the citizens by private companies or by the state - is it a case of privatising and occupation in more than one way. As Vito Acconci describes: 'What we call the public space in the city, was produced by a governmental body (in form of a park) or a private company (in form of a square in front of an office building or a courtyard in the building). What is being produced is a 'product': it was swapped for the air-rights or the rights to build higher by a firm - the government guarantees the people the right for it as a public good deed, as a piece of the welfare system. What is produced is a 'production': A spectacle, which glorifies the firm or the state. In that case, the area is lent to the public, donated - the people are looked upon as an organised community, as members of the state and possible consuments. Public space is a deal: between great and small, parents and children, institution and the individual. The agreement is that all public spaces belong to them, in the return therefore they belong to the state. I 19 IVito Acconci (1997). Public Space in a private Time ( lecture in connection with the symposium 'Andere Orte. Öffentliche Räume und Kunst' im Kunstmuseum des Kanton Thurgau, Kartause Ittingen, 1997)


Back to Berlin. Uniformed guards are a common sight in our city and it seems as if the mall, with them, finally has made its entrance into the public space. The guards are, on the initiative of worried shop owners who join together in consortiums, committed to guarantee the safety of them and their clients (or rather to give the impression of safety). The necessity for deployment of such formal institutions to watch the public space seems to make sense if we look back at Richard Sennett's thesis: The entrance of the private in the public sphere and the adjoining self-centredness of the individuals leads also to the decline of informal regulation systems.

Private security services and their state-'colleagues' seem to have an unspoken understanding regarding certain things: Because of the uncertain authority of private security services in the eyes of 'normal' citizens does it appear that in the grey zones of authority an unholy alliance between private and state- security is formed: The private security services enforce things, such as ordering somebody off the area, without legally being permitted to do so - nor are the state-services allowed, and who approvingly do not intervene. I 20 Icf. Thomas Brunst: Die private Stadtsicherheit. Frankfurter Rundschau from 30. 1.2004 . Fear that the public space might lose its 'natural' function of behaviour regulation, and that security is decreased and segregation increased, shows as a red thread through the mentioned critical perspectives. This interchange might have been described most precisely by Jan Wehrheim: 'Security raises residential segregation. In addition, precise division processes between classes and groups, included and excluded, established and outsiders become clear within the functional segregation and within certain areas. Through these processes do not only primary social relationships for those threatened with exclusion become restricted, also (brief) contacts, secondary social relationships between different social, ethnic and cultural people are reduced.I 21 IJan Wehrheim (2002). Die überwachte Stadt. In: Raum und Gesellschaft volume 17. Opladen, p. 217


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Festivalisation and museumisation


A consequence of Sennett's conclusion of the 'public sphere's loss' is the increase of meaning regarding the public space as a stage for social constitution of public matters: The individual that is transferred to into private isolation develops a strong longing for a ritualised, staged spectacle. Forerunners of these thoughts were for instance the situationists' theories or their protagonist Guy Debord. Mainly Debord's text 'Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels' from 1967 were well received in their rediscovery in the late 1970ies and early 1980ies. According to Debord was the city transformed into a stage for the capital. He exposes the social life as a show, which turned everyone - even those who seemed to be in control of the whole, into passive observers, to consumers of their own alienation of their words, deeds and wishes. In the view of the present city marketing does the city image have to be even more an experience, where everywhere it's 'vanish' is pronounced. 'Event City' is the annual programme 200/01 of the Bauhaus Dessau foundation, in which the consequences of artistic urban entertainment areas onto the city culture and city forming where the centre of attention. In the editorial of the event adjoining publication 'Die Stadt als Event' does the publisher Regina Bittner write: ' The town and the event seem to be closely linked to another in the post industrial contemporary. A contemporary appetite for entertainment feeds a new interest for the town. This is an appetite for entertainment that is powered by a longing for locality and identity. I 22 IRegina Bittner (2001). Die Stadt als Event. Zur Konstruktion urbaner Erlebnisräume. Edition Bauhaus, volume 10.Frankfurt/M. pp.15

The publicist Florian Rötzner connected this discussion to the phenomen of globalisation and 'digitalisation' of our cities. 'Urban life in the city-centres', he writes,'is been reduced more and more on retailing and consumption, on pleasure and culture (…). In the sense of the dysfunction of spatial aggregation and narrowness do the old city centre turn into reservates, to museums, to broken down structures of the digitale urbanismn, whose significance is distraction, decentralisation, enhancement of the inner, globalisation, individualisation and mobility.' I 23 Izit. In Uwe Rada: Stadt am Rande. In: die tageszeitung from 30.8.1996


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Time, mobility and the loss of space: global versus local


Space is less sensed body-sensually, but rather as a function to time and speed. The origin of this spatial 'dissolving' (or rather the fragmentation of the body and space) results from the 19th century and its progress of transport means, same as in the fields of media. 'With speed, which is made possible by a maschine, has the spatiotemporal perspective of man changed', writes Paul Virilio. I 24 IPaul Virilio (1994). Die Eroberung des Körpers. München, p.45And he stressed the consequence by the loss of spatial and temporal sensuality by holding fast transport means responsible for the 'sensomotor decline' of man. As a result man would finally reach a state similar to the loss of wits. I 25 Iebd. p.94 Even Michel de Certeau had characterised space as a 'tangle of mobile elements', that results from relating vectors, speed norms and time as a variable to another. Therefore space was a 'result of activities, that defines a direction and time-being.' I 26 IMichel de Certeau (1988). Kunst des Handelns. Berlin, p.218

Nowadays, have mobility, acceleration and spatial over-come a great importance in the social target hierarchy, because they are connected to the belief in progress. Travelling and mobility promise a life-style that is equivalent to freedom. Marc Augé has described the 'space of a travelor' as a sort of 'Non-sightd', that is defined by traffic and transit and neither inherits identity nor bears socialability. I 27 IMarc Augé (1994). Orte und Nicht-Orte. Vorüberlegungen zu einer Ethnologie der Einsamkeit. Frankfurt/M.,p. 93 ff.] Recent ethnological researches modify Augé's theory: In the 'flow' of movement in the city and by transferring from one inner city space to the other, would not only new possibilities of settling occur but also do exist very precise rules, requirements and patterns of behaviour. In this sense, does 'flow' mean the moving or the inter-space between the various and devided spheres of town (public sphere and private sphere, meaninglyliving, working, leisure, traffic or social network). These spheres, in which citizens get in contact with different people and form friendly and different assessed networks. The conclusion from this is the one reality that seems to be approved in our cities and that is most likely to be confronted with the thesis of the dissolution of spatial, temporal and social structures: Even if the everyday life is less tied to locality - yet for most people in a minor way and for a minority in a major way - does the locality remain with its meaning as 'a totale sensual experience'. I 28 IUlf Hannerz (1980). Exploring the City. Inquiries Towards an Urban Anthropology. New York, p.71 f. (quoted from Kokot 2000, p.13) and manifests itself in the existing spatial network as much as in the remaining relevance of everyday life-form. 'In that way does the globale not stand for the entire world, but only for certain influence'- states the ethnology. I 29 IWaldtraut Kokot, Thomas Hengartner, Kathrin Wildner (publisher) Kulturwissenschaftliche Stadtforschung. Kulturanalysen, Volume 3 of the institut for Ethnology, Universität Hamburg, Berlin, p.12 f.



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