December 2, 2009
Beran on Modern Public Space
City Journal has posted Michael Knox Beran's Can the Polis Live Again? The modern world has withered public space and its virtues. From the intro:
In 1958, Hannah Arendt published The Human Condition, her book—part panegyric, part lamentation—on what she called “public space.” What she meant by public space wasn’t just the buildings and gathering places that in a good town square or market piazza encourage people to come together. It wasn’t even civic art viewed more broadly, the paintings and poetry Arendt attributed to homo faber, the fabricating soul who translates “intangible” civic ideals into “tangible” civic art. Public space, for Arendt, was also a metaphysical arena in which people realized their individual potential.
Naturally, we're more interested in the buildings and the gathering places! Most of the article is about Arendt's writing and philosophy rather than land use law per se, but of course the issue of public space--physical and social--is important to land use theory and practice. See (or "listen to"--is that in the bluebook?), e.g., the latest Smart City podcast on Lurie Gardens as public space in Chicago. Also, the notion that public space may contribute to individual realization of potential sounds to me to have something in common with the property-law-for-human-flourishing argument (which in turn draws ultimately from Aristotelian analysis) articulated by Gregory Alexander in The Social-Obligation Norm in American Property Law.
Beran's article concludes with a comparison of Arendt's focus on politics to New Urbanism:
A new generation of civic artists is seeking to revive the old public spaces. “New Urbanist” architects, among them Léon Krier, Andrés Duany, and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, want to restore the town square to its old pride of public place. Their effort is noble, but Arendt showed just how fierce the opposition is.
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