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Masters of Chancery: The Gift of Public Space


Kingwell, M.



Public Space Reader

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Public space is the age’s master signifier. A loose and elastic notion that is variously deployed to defend architecture, to decry civic squares, to promote graffiti artists, skateboarders, jay-walkers, parkour aficionados, pie-in-the-face guerrillas, underground capture the flag enthusiasts, flashmob surveillance-busters, and other grid-resistant everyday anarchists. It is the unit of choice when it comes to understanding pollution, predicting political futures, thinking about citizenship, lauding creativity, and worrying about food, water, or the environment. Access to such goods is supposed to be of common interest. Unfortunately, when unmanaged, even abundant public goods are frequently subject to what the economist Garrett Hardin called “the tragedy of the commons.” In the classical ideal theory, positional public goods and public positional goods should be contradictions in terms: anything zero-sum is not public, and anything public is not subject to relative gain. In reality, the various hybrids of publicness and exclusive competition are unfortunately common.


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