By Linda Stamato
It’s the time of the year for thinking about what we’re grateful for, isn’t it? I’m reminded of how much—and why—I’m grateful for the Morristown Green, the public space that is held in a private trust but is dedicated, preserved and protected for public purposes.
One person who fiercely appreciates the value of this kind of public space is Jan Gehl, the Danish architect and planner and author of Cities for People. He believes that human beings, not buildings, come first when designing a city.
While his designs have universal appeal, I am drawn most to his view of public space and democracy.
When asked, during an interview with The Progressive’s Violet Law (December, 2012/January, 2013), how public spaces have shaped politics, he observed that the first order of business for dictatorships is to prevent people from meeting.
When Barcelona emerged from the Franco dictatorship in 1975, for example, city officials created 200 public squares, where people could meet and talk, as a sign that democracy had returned.
And, in Argentina, from 1977 to 2006, the silent protest of mothers against the military dictatorship every Thursday on May Square in Buenos Aires was an example of how brave and meaningful meetings in public space can shape a better future for people.
In Bahrain, there used to be a huge square. But, last year, amid the uprisings in the Middle East, the so-called “Arab Spring,” the rulers in that country turned the square into a traffic roundabout in order to prevent people from gathering.
And so, Gehl reminds us that it is public spaces, “dangerous public spaces”–where ideas are exchanged, in conversations, where voices are raised in demonstrations—that provide the space for democracy. This time of the year, and all year long, we must be grateful for the public space that is our Morristown Green.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Gehl (Jan Gehl)
http://www.amazon.com/Cities-People-Jan-Gehl/dp/159726573X (Cities for People)
http://www.progressive.org/ (The Progressive)
Morristown resident Linda Stamato teaches in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and co-direct its Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers University.