A defining characteristic of privately owned "public" squares and spaces is conditional access. Members of the public are only allowed in if the company controlling the place is agreeable. This is private property in the same way that someone's house is private property, which means that the owner can decide who is or is not allowed to enter and what they are allowed to do there.
These are not democratic spaces. Instead rules and regulations are enforced by uniformed private security and round-the-clock surveillance. A host of seemingly innocuous activities such as cycling, rollerblading and even eating in some places are forbidden. So is filming, taking photographs and political protest.
Thursday, 27 October 2011
It's not democratic to stop other people going about their business...
Apparently Anne Minton thinks this is terrible (although I’m not sure the ordinary member of the public would think so):
I struggle to see how this differs markedly from those “democratic” spaces?
Conditional access? Most public spaces these days are subject to conditional access – think of the parks locked after 7 pm, the ‘keep off the grass’ signs, the strictures on busking, begging and drinking. And yes the banning of those “seemingly innocuous activities such as cycling, rollerblading and even eating”. All these are features of the most public of public spaces. Places now policed by a bewildering variety of uniformed officials – street wardens, parking enforcement officers, PCSOs and the occasional really copper all with powers to move you on, fine you and stop you from doing ordinary everyday things like taking photos, having a fag or resting tired feet.
The truth about all this is that privately owned “public” spaces are not a new invention, nor are they the “privatisation” of previously public land – it suits the owner to ensure that the place is managed in the interests of users and, if that means stopping people from “occupying” the space with a load of mostly empty tents then so be it.
The truth is that these “occupations” are intended to prevent other people from engaging in lawful activity, from going about their daily business. It seems reasonable that private owners should seek to prevent this infringement of the liberty of those who wish to use the spaces they own.
Ms Minton says this is undemocratic but does not ask how those people who wish, for example, to attend St Pauls Cathedral can exercise this right when the “occupiers” prevent them from doing so. Indeed, it is profoundly undemocratic for protesters – a few in number – to try and prevent thousands from going about their daily business simply for the sake of a political “protest”.
Of course people have the right to protest, to march and to gather (although I’m willing to bet that Ms Minton will be near the front of the crowd calling for the EDL, BNP or other unpleasant fascist group to be prevented from protesting). But those protesters, marchers and occupiers have no right to prevent others from doing their business or to “occupy” private places without the agreement of the owners.