Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

3. Current reference to space: the commons

Nicholas Anastasopoulos speaks about 'cosmopolitan commons' when referring to examples involving discussions about former ports, now awaiting decision what shall be their new use. In Athens, the old airport Hellikon was promised to be a huge park, but then with time, crisis and vested interests, the user concept altered as pressure build up to keep the first promise. Now the airport is as well the sight of a refugee camp with many problems linked to overuse of space lacking in toilet facilities, so that migrants cross the street and use the near-by park along the coast for that purpose. He states the following:

 “Former ports of air and water, in various parts of the world, experience uncertain states of gradual or abrupt transition. Some are being imagined as metropolitan parks, while in times of economic recession, others are facing privatization and speculative development at the detriment of the communities and cities they serve and to which they belong. By switching scales from local to global and by overcoming national frameworks, we attempt to understand horizontally the nature of these processes. We go beyond the immediate questions that each of the case studies raises, in order to develop a sense of the big picture. We then go beyond the public vs private dilemma and examine the challenges of alternative forms of governance and policy development, through large-scale participatory planning and peer-to-peer (P2P) urbanism, as timely and fruitful for developing global futurity.”


“Imaginating alternative futures“ (https://www.facebook.com/events/1774766566071005/ )

Since he raises a very serious issue about use of "the commons" as reference, it would be wise to clarify how the dilemma between private and public space is overcome, and what amounts to common use of the resource of space itself.

The public and the private

a) the confusion between private and public e.g. PUBLIC in Athens, the Cathedral in Valletta, and the thesis of Habermas, Structural Changes in the Publicness e.g. former garden of the King today a public park – Michel Foucault: les mots et les choses – the alternations in the symbols of power and the meaning of places: history and change – alternations even in street names as experienced in Berlin after the wall fell in 1989 and questions arose what to do with the Stalin allee

b) Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring, Syntagma Square in Athens – the assembly and the hygienic counter strategy (Jean Pierre Faye, Pariser Commune after the French Revolution and the Health Police; same in Galway with the removal of an independent village of the sailors) – collective memory and official policy

c) pre-determined use of space e.g. parades and political gatherings

The loss of space includes as well a deliberate destruction of a public space like Tahrir square in Cairo which has been transformed after the Arab Spring in 2011 into a kind of anti tank compound so as to prevent in future the gathering of people wishing to protest against the government. Such interventions can also happen by issuing health decrees and therefore banning activities which make up a people's assembly as was the case on Syntagma Square in Athens when protest meant a search for an answer how Greece ended up with such a huge deficit.

Indeed the denial of a wish for public truth is equal to the destruction of public space. Here Jürgen Habermas has given a theoretical and historical account of the transformation of publicness over time. The former garden of the king being now a park accessible to everyone would be such an example.




The conversion of the parking place into a park was the outcome of a protest movement which peaked on Dec. 6th, 2008 after a policeman had shot and killed the fifteen year old Alexandros, but also due to criticism that the protest has yet to show a creative or positive element.


Quite differently is how the main square in Exarchia has been handled. For a long time, it has been dominated if not by anarchists, then by those deeply involved in drug related activities. Once this threatened to get out of hand, the neighbourhood along with local shop keepers went up in revolt. They wanted the space to be save again for children to play.

It is of interest how different groups tend to dominate the main square at certain hours of the day while at other times the old problems seem to have come back. The social use of inner urban spaces and the problems which prevail once neglected by Municipal services reflect an overall problem when it comes to making use of space.

Neglect of space has also its consequences. Vandalism and littering has been called by Enzensberger as a first sign of civil war. Already city administrations wage a losing battle against the urban outcry called graffiti: a transformation of urban spaces (streets) with a key reference being certain spots (abandoned shops, or where corporate capital has parked money as Sassen explains i.e. possession of property but not using it and thereby killing local life, see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/europe/eu-member-states/greek-economy-2/rethinking-the-greek-crisis-by-saskia-sassen/ ).


The creative use of space

The secret behind any creative use of space is how to gain rather than lose energy after having entered any specific space, in order to interact there with other people. As this includes learning how to do enjoy and to do things together, the need to gain in energy is connected to becoming able to tackle larger issues than what can be done individually. Likewise being together reflects what this makes possible. It reminds of a saying by Vincent Van Gogh who wrote to his brother Theo that there are so many subjects worthy to be painted, but which no individual artist can realise due to a lack of energy. Only when artists come together, and that was his dream of wishing to create an atelier of the South but which only Gaughin joined under quite contradictory conditions, can they take on these larger texts. Basically this reflects also a matter of articulating public opinion. It counts simply when more people express a similar or the same opinion, so that politicians have to take notice. Definitely everyone knows masses of people can gain in energy and develop such a dynamic that it can become a powerful current which spills easily over whatever obstacles are put in the way just to keep this energy at bay. Robert Musil in 'The Man without Attributes' captures this aspect when he describes how the elite is frightened by the masses beginning to demonstrate in the streets and which has all the potential to be suddenly a revolution after which everything changes in terms of what existed before.

Generally a city like New York is known to suck energy out of people, but which gives also a lot of energy back. Energizing certain activities means also a set of priorities govern that space, and if not heeded, the persons stand to lose especially if they decide to ignore the mostly unwritten rules or unwittingly stumble into something appearing like a jungle in which one can get easily lost. The question of energy is a matter of overcoming the usual one sidedness in organisations based on hierarchical structures with energy flowing up, while little comes down. Even flat hierarchies will not be able to resolve this problem.

Nevertheless the Business School of Harvard has far advanced thinking about organisational structures which recognize that people with a different cultural background display quite other motivational patterns when compared with others, and therefore the governing principle of the organisation should not be reduced to the mere aim to gain profit maximum.

Given that space is by definition an open area, the force fields which exist there will entail various confrontations with different kinds of hierarchical structures. At the same time, interaction in open spaces will allow for the taking on of different identities as people try out roles before adopting them in their daily lives. Consequently the most crucial energy gain comes with the realisation of civil conduct. That reflects also the disposition of civic society which wishes to deal with space in terms which are much more compatible to doing things for other than financial reasons.

The problem with most urban settings is that they leave out completely the need for space to unfold one's own creativity. A typical example is that nowadays children go from the house directly into the car to be brought to schools which have no outdoor space to play in and when they return, their attention is fixed to the virtual space offered by an I-pod or a computer screen. Naturally the more confined people are, the more they seek to escape into virtual spaces.


Space as public libraries for the sake of peace in Medellin, Colombia

a) public libraries allow multiple use, including performances, reading of books, availability of other resources e.g sound studio.

b) architecture

c) access to transport

d) comuna 13: the transition

e) society on the move: perspectives for everyone – learning to cope with everyday life challenges while not forgetting to live


Two problems intertwine, namely how to bring about creativity, and how use is going to be defined. A parking lot differs from a park. Definitely the needs within any city change constantly. One can say it redesigns itself daily by re-drawing borders between the private and the public.

When it comes to the creation of space, or interventions of all kinds, interestingly enough Michel Foucault would say, it is an art to create and to give space without occupying it oneself.

Added to this search for a creative use of space has to be the problem of value premises. Since they are set according to Cornelius Castoriadis, the problem is that they cannot be discussed. Any attempt to seek a change in these value premises can according to Cornelius Castoriadis easily lead to conflict, if not war.

If this holds, then political attempts to evoke a debate about values, in particular European values, are highly misleading. Value issues have to be handled differently and most of all in cultural terms allowing for a differentiated viewpoint so as to avoid false generalizations. The arts are such a means of communication and therefore we stand to learn from artists how they use space.

Naturally all of this and more puts in turn a constraint on public debate which is based on a dialectic between public truth and public space. A part of this has to be avoidance of the practice of mendacity or the use of the public lie already done by withholding vital information by claiming the public is not interested in hearing the full truth. As a matter of fact, politicians like Trump or those who are pushing forth an extremist right wing agenda are moving into the realm of post truth lies. They can articulate opinions although clearly untrue and still claim this to be a political truth. A horrid example was set by Johnson, today the foreign minister of the UK, who stated during his campaign for Brexit that the European Union was the same as Hitler's Germany. That he could say such utter nonsense and get away with it without having to face any consequences means that the public space as driven by and influenced by the media is no longer capable of upholding the demand for truth, so that people do not need to think twice before saying something in public. The confusion between public and Internet based spaces like Twitter and Facebook as commonalities without having anything in common shows how borders between the public and the private have become blurred and therefore human behaviour is no longer really adapted to a culture best defined as a search for truth.

However, it is true that a wise use of space can give orientation in more than one cultural and physical sense. This can be reflected especially on hand of countless conversions in use of space from the industrial to the modern to the post modern age. Very often such a transition is marked by changes not only in kinds of buildings constructed, but what amounts to redefining public space as such. Here the role of public art or of monuments in midst of a public square is very significant to document all of this. Moreover these changes reflect what is defined as public space, and what goes underneath it, starting with de Chirico and the Surrealist drawing a difference between day and night with the sculpture coming alive at night and climbing down from the pedestal. Naturally, a huge challenge is the conversion of empty space into something seemingly more complex and apt for an urban life. For example, the coal harbour of Cardiff had to be refurbished, and one of the first orientation marks where artistic sculptures at crucial junctures of the road system put in place according to a certain lay-out. Today Cardiff harbour has become quite a different landscape which was till then flat and without any specific meaning safe for storing coal.

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