What to do in the Meantime: Public Spaces as ‘First Places’​

Originally published in Linkedin 17/07/2019
Featured image: Wenceslas Square, Prague.

At times when housing shortages are a rule more than an exception, several local governments have adopted ‘radical’ but effective measures to limit the influence of hedge funds or venture capital in the housing market, such as Barcelona and Berlin, fuelled by the organized discontent of the local population. Nonetheless, is to be seen in the near future what is the outcome of such approaches and how effective they are in the long run.

Outdoor Gym, Lund, Sweden.
Outdoor Gym, Lund, Sweden.

What do we do then, in an scenario in which housing shortages are still a reality and socialized housing is still several kilometers away? An answer could lie in public spaces, which are usually seen as the source of moral panic under outdated approaches such as the broken windows theory, in spite of that, the public holds the potential for alternative spatial practices, it has the essense to become a ‘first place’ more than a ‘third place’ (Oldenburg, 1989).

The existing public spaces might need to be revamped, but what they need the most is to be opened to their community, allowing them to create their sense of home, allowing uses -which are in the current paradigm- reserved to the private. Nonetheless when the private (house, apartment, etc…) is limited in size or simply does not exist, where do social reproduction, leisure, socialization or simply slacking take place? In my opinion, they should take place in public spaces, but for that, we need to ask again what are public spaces? who is the public? and what do we want from them?

Architecture museum, Oslo. Occupation of empty houses in the 80s
Piece of the Architecture Museum of Oslo.

In no way this seeks to take the attention from the fundamental struggle for housing rights, but seeks to open spaces for communal organization, politics, enjoyment and the improvement of tomorrow’s cities without missing the importance of the here and now.