The Value of Space

The house is an individual possession, and should be worked for, but the park or the common which a man shares with his neighbours, which descends as a common inheritance from generation to generation, surely this may be given without pauperising.  (Octavia Hill – 1883: Homes of the London Poor)

Much has been written about the value of community or social spaces.  Octavia Hill, one of the key figures in establishing The National Trust, was formidable in advocating the need for social space suggesting that the public need “places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in”.  More recently, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) highlighted the contribution public spaces make to community life and how people use them.

One (very) early observation about life in Tel Aviv (which is replicated throughout Israel) is the emphasis placed on the importance of maintaining the use of public space for young people and the wider community. Other than the sanctuary of the Hayarkon Park, public space in Tel Aviv is limited – particularly green space – however, wherever there is communal space two things are apparent.  Firstly, any facilities are clean, well maintained and working. Examples include; public toilets, outdoor and free to use gym equipment, cold water fountains and children’s play areas.  Secondly, the general public’s access to the public facilities are not controlled, monitored or restricted. As a result, throughout the day and late into the night, you will encounter all ages – young and old – using and sharing the same communal space. At the very least, this provides a shared interaction between young people and adults within the same communal space.  Moreover, without the incessant use of CCTV – ironic for a society with such strong roots to the military – young people have the freedom to play, hangout and socialise without the threat of being ‘moved on’.

Before I left London, I paid a visit to The Museum of London’s Street Photography Exhibition where a collection of photographs from the late 19th century to present day were exhibited.  I found particularly striking how  many of the pictures showed young people  playing and ‘hanging out’ on the streets.  I’m certainly not harking back to ‘the good old days’, however in England, over the last ten years there has been an alarming reduction in the amount of free communal space young people can ‘just  be’  without the risk of being labelled as thugs, gangs or trouble-makers.

This was reiterated within the JRF report highlighting that by allowing young people to play or simply ‘hang out’ fosters and strengthens local attachments which are at the heart of local communities.Maybe it’s time for local authorities and the voluntary sector to work together to re-examine how London organises and manages its communal space?

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3 Responses to The Value of Space

  1. Matt Lent says:

    You’re so right Jon, communal space (often used by young people), especially in cities, is very threatened. A prime example is the wonderful space on the open South Bank of London which has been used by young people for decades, currently for skate boarding, bikes, parkour and graffiti. It has now been sold for development of commercial units, because that’s what the South Bank needs more of, restaurants and shops.

  2. Lovely blog Jon, thanks for posting. And so true. I came across some RSPB research a while ago that measured the radius around their homes that children from different generations were allowed to roam and play. You can imagine the results. What is this doing to their development long term?

  3. Richard says:

    Thanks, I recently wrote a chapter drawing on Doreen Massey’s account of conceptions of ‘space’. If ‘pace’ is conceived of in Newtonian terms only one group can occupy that space, whereas a more quantum conception allows for the space to be inhabited by many groups simultaneously. It would be interesting to know if ‘space’ is conceived of more quantum mechanically or whether there is less emphasis on age specific groups. On the latter, I am reminded of claims that maleness was asserted in 1950/60s US race equality campaigns (by men) asserting the unity of men regardless of colour. One consequence being the identification if women as ‘other’. Age, in the UK at present, is one of the last bastions of legitimate ‘othering’. The ways in which social acceptable othering may well be different in Israel.

    Ref: Davies, R. (2012) Places to go, things to do and people to see: space and activity in English youth work policy’ in Kraftl,P., Horton,J., and Tucker, F. ‘Critical geographies of childhood and youth Contemporary policy and practice’, Policy Press

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