The Value of Public Space

I recently read an interesting blog entry about the valuable role that public space plays in democracy. The public realm has always been a place of shared spaces and shared experiences. The value of this space cannot be understood in dollars and cents, but in acceptance vs closed mindedness, commonality vs differences.

The author argues that American society today has become very fragmented. We have become “increasingly balkanized into ethnic, class, faith, and interest groups whose members rarely interact meaningfully with people whose affiliations do not in large measure share.” Examples of this balkanization include the flight to the suburbs, as well as today’s web based lifestyles (social media replacing social contact).

LA's new Civic Park! Now under construction!

Now many of you might be thinking that it is merely human nature that we choose to associate with and seek out those who are most similar to us. So what’s the harm in forming pockets of communities of like interested minds? One merely has to turn on FOX NEWS or MSNBC to see what is wrong with our society.

our ever increasingly fragmented media networks

Some comments from CNN’s blog for perspective:

“Just proof that CNN is lined with Left Wing Liberals. They may have a guest here and there on various shows, but they would never promote an article written by a supporter of the Tea Party. By the way Beck uses quotes and video to show that liberal groups like the ACLU are trying to outlaw Xmas and Libs are not only pro-gay, but they’re anti-Christian. You know, you know thats true, deep down you know. Oh yeah, one more thing you thought 94′ was a slaughter. 2010 will be a record, you can only blame your Liberal/Socialist agenda that brought us here.”

“Trouble is coming. America will soon have its Crystal Nacht. The radical right is using the same sort of auslander (foreigner) hating, left hating, fear mongering to try to galvanize the frightened, ignorant masses. The right is pulling America towards a German style fascism that could again bring the world to war. Glenn becks is America’s Joseph Goebels and Sarah Palin – hitler…no wait Hitler wasn’t that much of an id10t, but the tea party are the Brown Shirts and soon enough there will be blood.”

The author strikes this insightful idea that the internet is, in effect, “filtering us out by our interests, to the determent of the off-line public realm.” Today, a conservative Googling Roe v Wade is going to come up with a different list of websites than a liberal who searches for the same thing. As we continue down the path where we relegate to the looney bin the ideas of those we do not agree with, it becomes harder to understand and easier to demonize.

The article basically advocates for the creation of public space, specifically in the form of public parks. However, I disagree with the author’s notion that streets can not provide a true social meeting space. Her reasoning that there is”too much chance of injury” is trivial. I believe that streets are the most important form of public space (its why this blog is called “Streets for All.” Streets need to extend not just the mobility of private vehicles, but of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users as well. Streets can connect our fragmented communities, encouraging the free flow of ideas and most importantly, of people.

To read the article click below:

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Filed under Bicycle Infrastructure, Complete Streets, Los Angeles, Mixed-Use, Public Art, Public Parks, Segregation, Traffic, Transit, Walkability

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