New Left Project describes the reshaping of the meaning and rules of our cities:
The commercialisation of the urban landscape has resulted in the privatisation of public space. As manufacturing industries have diminished and the consumer and service economy has grown, the places we inhabit have radically changed. As city centres have become tributes to consumption, private interests have permeated these spaces. Although these places hold the semblance of being “public”, they are owned by corporate interests and are therefore under private control and not accountable to the public.
The quasi-public space of the commercial city centre is unwelcoming for a growing number of citizens. Non-consumers, such as the homeless, the unemployed, the poor, the young and the old are branded as ‘others’ to the hegemonic consumer order. The right to the city is increasingly a privilege for those with the material and cultural capital to consume. The quest for clean and sanitized space has meant that ‘out of place’ individuals who fail to match up to a highly circumscribed model of ‘consumer citizenship’ are hidden from view.
City centres and shopping centres frequently forbid or discourage non-consuming activities, such as busking, skateboarding, political gatherings, musical performances or any other ungovernable, impromptu behaviour. In Liverpool city centre, they are only allowed to play two hour slots in council designated areas and must apply for a license and photo ID. Even in Camden, a place associated with music and its vibrant street-life, the council has introduced restrictive terms and conditions.
Across urban centres, the privatisation of public space has been reinforced by private security personnel and CCTV cameras which observe the movement of citizens. The architectural design and panoptican-style of many shopping centres also means shoppers can be observed from all angles. The largest shopping centre company Westfield, which has 91 centres across the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand tends to build its centres with an open gallery design. The combination of exposed escalators, glass lifts, 24-hour security personnel, CCTV cameras and the lack of small walkways means there are no places were visitors cannot be observed by the unrelenting gaze of surveillance. What’s more, Westfield in Australia have gone even further and implemented biometric surveillance measures.
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