Public Space Arms Race
The promise of public space — and by extension, of the city in which it thrives — is that it is open to all. Strangers meet, learn from each other, and encounter one another as equals. But what if people don’t want to mix? Indeed, in Frederick Law Olmsted’s day, Central Park, that most democratic design, featured all sorts of devices to privilege refined over rowdy behavior. Prohibitions on active sports and alcohol favored the class of people (middle) who didn’t find these things fun. And if it’s hard for everyone to get along in public space, imagine the neighborhoods they call home. Forcing “the mingling of people who are not yet ready to mingle, and don’t want to mingle” was not going to work, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. told a meeting of city planners one hundred years ago. Have we gotten any better at living together?