This week I bought a newspaper! Or rather, as the fiancé left the house with the elder stepson on Sunday I requested a copy of The Observer. Still, I'm pretty sure he bought it from the joint account which is pretty much the same thing as buying it myself.
I read about all kinds of things that real people in the real world have been doing (although as I type I'm struggling to recall much beyond a debate involving Miranda Sawyer about blockbuster shows* (Leonardo da Vinci having arrived at the National Gallery). The article that made me think the most was Rowan Moore's piece, A park for the people or private playground on the Thames? In it Moore argues against the labelling of private property, public. The proposed London River Park will be free to the taxpayer (it's funded by the Singaporean asset-management company, Venus) and Boris Johnson said 'The sheer beauty and design brilliance of this structure will provide yet another amazing and unique attraction for the capital.' This is all well and good but as the park will make its revenue from renting out pavilions for corporate exhibitions and events, it will not be private.
This all sounds a bit nit picking at first. After all, there are plenty of pseudo-public places from museums to street cafés. Where the problem arises is when amidst the Occupy movement, the likes of Canary Wharf and Paternaster Square make use of their private status to keep protesters out.
I'm torn. On the one hand I think the Occupy movement are a idiots living in a fantasy land of what society should be like and with exceedingly limited appreciation of just how fortunate they are to live in our liberal democracy. I don't consider myself to be one of the 1% but as I've said before, I have no problem with there being very rich people in this world. So the fact that the protesters can be kept out of significant areas is a very good thing in my mind. Keep Swampy and his mates out of Canary Wharf, the grown-ups need to go to work.
Still, what if one day I felt the need to protest? Ok so it's never going to happen; I see protesting as whining. If you want to create change then play the game and try to influence using the rules but I don't want to live in a country where freedoms are curtailed excessively. I see blocking people's ability to voice themselves ineffectually as being tied to free and open media. I'm all too familiar with the Government owned newspapers and brutality against protesters in Malaysia to not fear heavy handed regulation of civil liberties.
But ultimately I think Moore is stretching the argument. I think privately owned public spaces are a good thing and I think it's actually fair enough to call them public since to most people's experience that is what they are. I see the Gloucester Docks and Quays as being public in that I can freely access them with my family yet they also offer the benefits of being privately owned; just the other weekend there was a food fair and they are always clean and tidy. Have you seen what most council run areas are like by comparison? So sometimes they're closed for ticketed activities, I can live with that because the trade off is worth it.
I'm sure part of my views stem from my parents' experiences of public use of private space. When I was a teenager they bought a house that had several acres. The previous owner had laid it out as park land and allowed the villagers to walk on it. When my parents bought it, they erected fences in order to create fields for our horses. Few people can afford the luxury of land that serves no purpose beyond leisure and indeed the previous owner had declared bankruptcy. The villagers were disgruntled and my parents had to fight to prove there was no right of way (fortunately for them, the access hadn't been for a long enough period to warrant this). Sure it sucks when something you have begun to feel is yours is taken away but we have to be realistic, someone has to pay for things.
If people want large amounts of truly public space then they need to recognise that funding that needs to come from taxes. There are three choices as I see it; have some public space, have lots of public space and higher taxes or have lots of public spaces which have varying conditions and may not be permanent. I choose the later, the world we live in is fluid and continually evolving. These semi-public spaces are a pretty good solution to our desire for well-maintained quality parks, dock sides and centres.
It is often pointed out to me that the problems we face are due to evils such as Thatcher's privatisation but I fail to see a golden era that ever existed in the UK. The fiancé and have been watching the Bond films in order of release and the sexism and racism are really quite shocking. I’m pretty sure the veneer of glamour was absent from the majority of people’s lives. Indeed, the thing to look back on with real pride is the Keep Calm and Carry On generation. To those buying into this notion I’d love to ask them what they think it means. Because it was about perseverence in the face of adversity, not throwing your toys out of the pram!
* In case you read it and are interested then I side with Sawyer and did not visit on this weeks trip to the capital. I need space to enjoy art and hated the experience of the Picasso exhibition I attended in Liverpool a few years back. In case you didn't read it and want to, here is the link.