The shrinking realm of public space

“ Some scholars suggest that with abundance, Americans outgrew their collective need — even their capacity — for a public realm. Others argue that the public itself was felt to have become too large, too inclusive, its rewards too widely disseminated in too many forms — too democratic. Whatever the cause, the demise of the idea of a democratic public domain in the United States is a loss that extends beyond its borders.

“It is not possible, of course, to construct a global public; at a global scale, the ideas of democratic access and accountability associated with public space stretch beyond recognition, for people do not live their lives as members of abstract communities or spaces. Of necessity, common property regimes around the world are represented as sharply bounded, local, and delimited, usually with reference to particular kinds of resources, such as fish, land, and forest. The discourse of property rights has created ways of imagining that those independent systems of allocating property rights and sharing resources might continue at the sufferance of international proprietors — the NGOs who are taking figurative ownership of the globe’s ‘future’ and who in their capacity as guardians have set about evaluating the efficacy and efficiency of any given system to determine which should be left in place and which should be reformed. Local practices can create their own space for unexpected contingencies, new openings that can redirect strategic calculation on a larger scale, of course. But without larger institutions of government, there are not many ways most ordinary people with limited means can collectively deliberate over what they wish to control or leave for their descendants by way of shared resources, institutions or public spaces.

“Historically, public space was created as public property, and if that institution has run its course, if there is no language or theory that affirms that people can build and maintain governments that can build and maintain public space, we should all pay attention, for we have observed one more tragedy in our own time.”

Elizabeth Blackmar in “Appropriating ‘the Commons’: The Tragedy of Property Rights Discourse,” 2006

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What a terrible reverse… Throughout the history of humanity, till now, it was the private sphere that needed a definition and a boundary. Now it is the public space that needs a border, that needs to be defined, as every little corner of the planet is claimed by the private sector.

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