The eradication of public space



Playtime, Jacques Tati



Title The eradication of public space: dissolving liminal states
Year 2012
Notes EURAU12:
12th European Symposium on Research in Architecture and Urban Design, Porto.
Citation Paulouro, João Ponce de Leão. ‘The eradication of public space: dissolving liminal states’. In, Pinto da Silva, Madalena (coord.) ‘EURAU12 Porto | Espaço Público e Cidade Contemporânea: Actas do 6º European Symposium on Research in Architecture and Urban Design’. Porto, FAUP, 2012. ISBN 978-989-8527-01-1
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Modern communication technologies, globalization, and political and economic integration policies, have turned Europe into a test-bed for multiple cultures sharing the same physical space. As the 2005 French riots have demonstrated however, the consequent social organization of space has not resulted in a greater integration of communities; whilst borderless space has become more complex, it is also becoming more increasingly fragmented and fortified, separating rather than integrating (Duffield, 2010; Madsen, 2003). Such socio-urban borders not only constitute the building blocks of spatiality, but have also been regarded as the first step towards integration Certeau, 1984; Leach, 2006) and liminal transition (Turner, 1969).

The proliferation of fortified spaces and consequent eradication of public space however – through gated communities and recent developments of entire gated cities establishing a second layer of habitation and community above the historical layer of the city (Borsdorf, 2008) – suggests that future urban spatialities will be generated through a process of schismogenesis, as defined by Bateson (1987): a state of unstructured liminality whereupon communities fall into a vicious circle of positive feedback and progressive differentiation, leading to either symmetrical differentiation (as seen by the growth of gated communities and eradication of public space) or complementary differentiation (as seen by the increasing divide between center and periphery). Bateson however acknowledges that such states of liminality must eventually dissolve.

Following a critical literary review of disciplinary societies (Foucault, 2006), urban cultural identity (Akcan, 2005), and Bateson’s work into schismogenesis (Bateson, 1987), I argue that the riots in France can be viewed as a breakdown of this liminal state, not merely an atypical occurrence but rather a manifestation of a new race of ‘non-citizens’ excluded from equal social and political participation in urban development and a direct consequence of an intensification of ‘non-places’ (Augé, 2006). As such, and given the exponential growth of urban populations, future cities run the risk of breaking down into “dysfunctional agglomerations” and returning to past divided socio-spatialities, such as Shanghai during the 1920s or Berlin in the second half of the last century (Sudjic, 1999). Shaped by networks of fortified gated communities and a loss of public urban space – vital for full political public participation – schismogenetic urbanities, constitute a risk to the democratic process of future urbanities.