Public Space Private Space
“The public realm should be public. It’s where people of all backgrounds, ages and interests can mix and get a shared sense of belonging and ownership. For London to become a more sustainable city we must expect higher densities of development. But we must not allow this to increase exclusion and inequality, as it risks compromising the democratic principle of open and easy access for all”
Nicky Gavron, Chair of the London Assemblies Planning and Housing Committee report Public life in private hands
Managing London’s public space May 2011
Photographers among other users are increasingly encountering large parts of London and other cities that are ‘no go areas’. Our public city streets are slowly but surely being handed over to private developers who take responsibility for maintaining them but also policing the behaviour of the public that they rely on using them.
Starting with the development of Canary Wharf in 1988 whole chunks of our city have been given away or handed over to private profit making developers such as British Land and Land Securities. For most London photographers the following list of developments will be notorious as hostile places to make pictures, you are however welcome to spend your money in the shops, restaurants and bars that they contain.
Athletes Village, London
Bishops Square, Spitalfields
Cardinal Place, Victoria
Central St Giles
More London, including the City Hall
Excel Centre, Royal Victoria Docks
King’s Cross Central
Olympic Park, London
Westfield Stratford City
This list represents acres and acres of the City of London that are now privately owned by organisations like Qatari Diar, the Mitsubishi Estate Company, JP Morgan and The Blackstone Group, none of whom were democratically elected to determine the rules that govern our public spaces. This handing over of power by our elected representatives to private hands undermines the notion of the city as a democratic project. Directors and shareholders not councillors and MP’s now determine wether we can cycle, sit, play music, smoke, peacefully protest or take photographs.
Britain is a democracy, what happens in a public place is a matter of public record. Even if a space is privately owned it can be considered a public place if the public come and go freely, especially if they are encouraged to enter and use the shops and restaurants by the owners.
We are blindly sliding towards a post-public city where London is a theme park for tourists and the mega rich and its streets and public places are managed financial instruments in which citizens are only permitted to work and shop.
Let’s be clear, it is not the fact of the private ownership, development and often, regeneration that is problematic, it is the subsequent control of the public spaces enforced by private security.
I would suggest that private developments that include public areas, where the public are encouraged to shop and spend their money should be open for all of the same activities that are sanctioned in the true public realm.