The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is participating in the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, which aims to bring the humanities into closer connection with disciplines that study the built environment to help address the complex problems facing today’s urban areas. To jump-start conversation for an upcoming working session, participants have been asked to “reflect upon a keyword that provokes, confuses, inspires, and/or annoys you in current thinking about urban and/or urban arts engagement.” This posting is by Christian Frock, founder and director of Invisible Venue.
As much of my work as a writer, curator and educator focuses on the ways artists work in public space, I am drawn to dialog that parses the meaning of public space in civic life. Recently I have been thinking about two (seemingly) unrelated articles by New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman that explore the value of public spaces in an urban context. In an article dated May 31, 2013, titled “A Streetcorner Serenade for the Public Plaza,” Kimmelman considered the trend towards revitalizing marginalized spaces as “public” plazas largely for the benefit of nearby businesses, while only superficially addressing the failure of POPOS to function as truly public platforms (a revelation heightened by the Occupy movement). A week later, he wrote from the Turkish protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square (“In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel,” New York Times, June 2, 2013) to report of the progression of protests that initially took issue with proposed development plans slated for Istanbul’s last remaining green space, Gezi Park. I am interested in how these two articles, written by the same critic in almost the same week, could fail to address shared concerns across the two topics. In the former article, Kimmelman champions San Francisco’s development of public “park” projects, but only insofar as they benefit nearby businesses — without addressing what public space should be for the larger, diverse population: (ideally green) space for gathering, expression, and respite. My contribution here is open-ended in that I am interested in how these parallel views fail to recognize the crisis of diminishing public space in the United States – and the detriment of measuring the value of public space against the profit potential of private industry.