Analyzing Whether Public Spaces are Places Where Everyone is Welcome and is Free to express their Identity
Public spaces should be protected against users that can be defined as a threat. This can be done through the installation of security details such as surveillance cameras and police surveillance among others. Not all public spaces are the same and some are defined by their characteristics. For instance, a capital as a public space may need to be organized in such a way that it addresses the needs of a city center. Generally, a public space should be equally accessible to all types of people and therefore it should be designed in such a way that it is easily accessible. Using the example of a capital city, it is not right to say that a public space is a place where everyone is welcome and free to express their identity because an entry to a capital may be restricted by the government (Anonymous n.d.) For example, Aboriginal people without permits were prohibited to enter the inner city of Perth between 1927 and 1954. This essay uses various approaches to analyze whether public spaces are welcome to everyone.
The prohibition of the Aboriginal people was mainly driven by the fact that Perth city was restructured to produce a public space that was addressing particular needs and interests. In essence, the designers had imposed the conditions of visiting the city on the grounds of protecting it from threats. As such, a public space is a place where those who have no intention to cause harm are welcome. The threats or problems that face public spaces may also be addressed through “inclusion” and “exclusion” approaches. For instance, youth may decide to cause problems in a public street (Anonymous n.d.) Considering that streets in a city are a public space, disturbances caused by youth or any other people may cause discomfort to the other users of the streets. As such, those in authority must take action to solve this problem by keeping the youth out of the city or through policing and surveillance. Again, this clearly shows that one cannot be welcome to a public space to cause disturbance.
According to Iveson (2003) the interpretation of citizenship and democracy may affect the accessibility of public space. This author argues that being a member of a state or country is not a guarantee of substantive citizenship rights for accessing any public space. Indeed, those who visit public places and feel uncomfortable or victimized may regard themselves as lesser citizens than those who are comfortable while in public places. The liberal notion that public spaces should be open to all regardless of their status should only be applicable if those visiting public spaces are ready to leave their particular subjectivities back in their private sphere.
In regard to this, differences in status and identity should not be brought out in public spaces. As an illustration, gays and lesbians have the right to access public space so long as they do not reveal their sexuality since that is a private affair. This may also be dictated by what is considered to be the norm in the society. Therefore, public space cannot be said to be universally accessible because the comfort of the individuals have to be taken into account (Iveson 2003). It is actually for this reason that male swimmers were not allowed in McIvers Baths (Sydney) since the pool was only open to women and children despite being referred to as public.
Before determining whether everyone is welcome to public places, it is imperative to note that our behavior in public spaces is controlled by social norms that lay structures on what is acceptable and what is not. Moreover, perceptions on appropriate and inappropriate behavior may vary between social groups and the level of authority. In this case, those in authority may label some activities or people as unusual. In reality, public spaces are also designed differently, either socially or physically, and for different purposes (Nolan 2010). This implies that some activities such as skateboarding may be allowed in some areas while being considered as unsuitable in some other areas. The interpretation for this is that public spaces reflect social norms that should be adhered to in order to gain accessibility. Failure to conform to such norms may lead to being denied access to a public space.
When it comes to sexual orientation, showing affection in public spaces for lesbians or homosexuals is a social behavior that should be considered. Such people should always choose the right places to show their affection where they do not hurt or influence others negatively or otherwise (Maria 2013). Being perceived a lesbian or a homosexual in public spaces largely depends on the actions of the people involved. If they choose not to show any affection in public, they might pass as heterosexuals and may not be denied access to a public space.
Feminism and intersectionality should also be viewed by geographers in relation to how it may affect the use and accessibility of public spaces. Indeed, the identity of specific public spaces such as school and workplaces may be affected by the intersectional identities of the people who occupy them. The behavior of the dominant group in a public space eventually determines who is in place or who is out of place (Gill 2007). In some instances, a deaf person may feel discriminated in workplace and hence lack the freedom associated with expression of identity. Similarly, a lesbian may lack freedom to express her identity in a public space that is dominated by heterosexuals.
To sum up, in order to access a public space such as a city it should be designed in such a way that it serve the users appropriately. Conversely, the users of a public space should not cause disturbance as the concerned authority may remove or relocate them to a different place. In addition, the interpretation of citizenship and democracy may affect the accessibility to pubic space. It is therefore important to avoid showing differences in status and identity in public and only preserve that for private spaces. Social norms also play an important role in determining accessibility to public spaces. It is therefore possible for some activities to be allowed in one public space while being discouraged in another. People with certain sexual orientation such as lesbians, should avoid displaying affection in public spaces as this may offend others and hence deny them access to specific public spaces. Considering all these views, it is evident that public spaces are not necessarily places where everyone is welcome and free to express their identity.
Anonymous, n.d., “no fun.no hope.don’t belong.” Remaking ‘Public Space’ in Neo-liberal Perth, 149-186.
Gill, V., 2007, Theorizing and Researching Intersectionality: A Challenge for Feminist Geography, The Professional Geographer 59 (1), 10-21.
Iveson, K., 2003, “Justifying Exclusion: the politics of public space and the dispute over access to McIvers ladies’ baths,” Sydney, Gender, Place and Culture 10 (3), 215-228.
Maria, R., 2013,Young lesbians negotiating public space: an intersectional approach through places, Children’s Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2013.848741.
Nolan, N., 2010, The ins and outs of skateboarding and transgression in public space in Newcastle, Australia, Australia Geographer 34 (3), 311-327.
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