<body> Public Ad Campaign: The Cultures of Cities-Sharon Zukin
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Cultures of Cities-Sharon Zukin

I just started reading what will surely turn out to be a great book by Sharon Zukin called The Culture of Cities. The author explains how our symbolic economy, produced in all of our myriad public spaces, ends up dictating a large portion of our public actions and interactions. I wanted to quote a few lines out of the first chapter that might get people interested.

"Accepting diversity implies sharing public space - the streets, buses, parks, and schools - with people who visibly, and quite possibly vehemently, live lives you do not approve of."

"I also see public culture as socially constructed on the micro-level. It is produced by the many social encounters that make up daily life in the streets, shops, and parks - the spaces in which we experience public life in cities. The right to be in these spaces, to use them in certain ways, to invest them with a sense of our selves and our communities - to claim them as ours and to be claimed in turn by them - make up a constantly changing public culture. People with economic and political power have the greatest opportunity to shape public culture by controlling the building of the city's public spaces in stone and concrete. Yet public space is inherently democratic. The question of who can occupy public space, and so define an image of the city, is open-ended."

"The disadvantage of creating public space this way (through private/public partnerships like BID's and parks conservancies) is that it owes so much to private-sector elites, both individual philanthropists and big corporations. This is especially the case for centrally located public spaces, the ones with the most potential for raising property values with the greatest claim to be symbolic spaces for the city as a whole. Handing such spaces over to corporate executives and private investors means giving them carte blanche to remake public culture. It marks the erosion of public space in terms of its two basic principles: public stewardship and open access."

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