Designs on the Public: The Private Lives of New York's Public Spaces Paperback – 16 Nov 2007
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- What constitutes a public?
- How are law, regulation, rhetoric and design used to control who gets to use a space, and what they're allowed to do there?
- Just how is eminent domain - the state's prerogative to claim private property, for the ostensible benefit of the public - constructed?
- How can aesthetics be deployed to muddy the fact that an apparently private domain like the atrium at Trump Tower has in fact been paid for (and continues to be subsidized) by you and me, the public?
Each of these issues is brought to vivid life through well-chosen examples from the recent history of New York City, from the controversy over Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc" to the design-abetted, megacorp-friendly "renewal" of Times Square. Even though these conflicts are far from obscure, Miller's careful explication reveals facets of each that have hitherto not been well aired - for example, I was unaware of the bowderlization and betrayal of photographer Neil Selkirk's "Faces of 42nd Street" series until Miller reported on it. (Apparently, neither was Selkirk.)
In its distillation of some important ideas from Habermas and Lefebvre, "Designs on the Public" reminds us that the seemingly self-explanatory notion of "public space" is something continually in the process of being constructed, renegotiated, and challenged. It's a bracing, not always happy but absolutely crucial read: those of us who believe that democracy is something that happens in public are best served by understanding how very contingent access and the right to use can be. I've added it as required reading for the course I teach at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone concerned about the life of cities.
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