urban design in '99

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Sat Aug 28 06:41:59 PDT 1999

>From an article by Eric Fredricksen in Seattle's Stranger
alternaweekly <http://www.thestranger.com/archive/847/FEATURES/>. Policed banality in the name of consumer sovereignty!

<quote> A growing movement among city governments and developers, often reacting to the annoyances created by urban drunks and panhandlers, seeks to replace public inactivity, whether on sidewalks or in parks, with convenient and efficient public motion. Commerce displaces idling; sidewalk-sitting is banned; private skyways and tunnels supplant public sidewalks; pedestrian-only streets are opened to traffic; mall atriums displace town squares. Preferably, most of this public motion leads people to places where financial transactions occur. These transactions enrich private businesses, and the city, via taxes on the transactions. Parks, once known as places to rest, are reconfigured as paths or plazas or forums, leading to or surrounded by shops. The most viable spaces for idling and meeting others are the privately owned indoor spaces that are the common spaces of the contemporary era: malls. The city itself becomes an open object to be passed through freely, a web of arterials linking the central stores to the wider expanse of bedroom communities surrounding them.

Westlake Park itself, which critics said would be destroyed by Pine Street's reopening, was part of an earlier experiment in creating mall-like space in central cities (as is Occidental Mall in Pioneer Square, which may itself be reopened to traffic). Westlake is related to the pedestrian malls which cropped up across the country in preceding decades, with various levels of success. But a pedestrian-only street cannot mimic a mall with complete success. A mall is a privately owned spaceÐthus, it can be controlled with a much firmer hand, by private security personnel. Bums and punks, goof-offs and drunks can be forcibly removed. It can be emptied completely at night. Panhandling is no longer defensible as a free speech issue: I could kick you out of my house for anything you say-and so, with a few limitations, can a mall owner.

This control is exercised in our names and for our benefit as well, whether we think it is or not. For all the protests about the various laws used by our police to harass the homeless, the consumer gladly accepts, and in fact seeks out, a sense of security, safety, and predictability when venturing out of his home to spend some money. </quote>

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