June 20th, 2013

The recent intense protests in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul have brought attention to the value and meaning of Public Space. Istanbul has very little free open space, and the government had planned to replace one of its parks with a monument and a shopping mall. The lesson here is clear: mess with public space and you might set off national blowback and find yourself the center of international attention and criticism.

In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel
By Michael Kimmelman

“So public space, even a modest and chaotic swath of it like Taksim, again reveals itself as fundamentally more powerful than social media, which produce virtual communities. Revolutions happen in the flesh. In Taksim, strangers have discovered one another, their common concerns and collective voice.” Read on.

Defenders of Public Space in The International Herald Tribune
By Harvey Morris

“The privatization of the public realm, through the growth of ‘private-public’ space, produces over controlled, sterile places which lack connection to the reality and diversity of the local environment, with the result that they all tend to look the same,” Ms. Minton wrote in a report for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. “They also raise serious questions about democracy and accountability.” Read on.

Transportation Chief Talks of Giving the Public More Public Spaces
By Clyde Haberman

“ ‘People are very possessive and passionate about public space,’ said Ms. Sadik-Khan, the New York City transportation commissioner. ‘When it’s taken away, I’m not surprised that there’s a strong reaction. If you took away Central Park …’ She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t have to. New York would surely have a popular uprising on its hands.” Read on.

It often it takes a riot, or some equivalent dramatic event, to get the attention of societies, government, and developers. And it has always been this way in the modern world. The entire biking movement of the last fifty years in fact owes its existence to public protests over the intrusion of automobiles into public space. It’s easy to forget that places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen were not always bike friendly and that public protest allowed them to develop and flourish, as this video makes clear.

How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths

These issues are near and dear to us at PUBLIC, where we think of bikes as one of greatest assets that allow us to more fully appreciate and enjoy our communities and public space. Thanks to the citizens of Istanbul for their courage and for reminding us that the issue is global one.