There are many ways to approach the subject of public space: the threats posed to it by surveillance and visual pollution; the joys it offers of stimulation and excitement, of anonymity and transformation; its importance to urban variety or democratic politics. But public space remains an evanescent and multidimensional concept that too often escapes scrutiny.
The essays in Rites of Way: The Politics and Poetics of Public Space open up multiple dimensions of the concept from architectural, political, philosophical, and technological points of view. There is some historical analysis here, but the contributors are more focused on the future of public space under conditions of growing urbanization and democratic confusion. The added interest offered by non-academic work—visual art, fiction, poetry, and drama—is in part an admission that this is a topic too important to be left only to theorists. It also makes an implicit argument for the crucial role that art, not just public art, plays in a thriving public realm.
Throughout this work contributors are guided by the conviction, not pious but steely, that healthy public space is one of the best, living parts of a just society. The paths of desire we follow in public trace and speak our convictions and needs, our interests and foibles. They are the vectors and walkways of the social, the public dimension of life lying at the heart of all politics.
"The collection soon departs from its foundation in urbanism and takes a provokative, interdisciplinary turn, offering work by a rich assortment of voices, including a political theorist on subversive public spaces conducive to play and social deliberation as work, by a philosopher on how the city is public by definition, a novelist on characters struggling with a city's overlapping physical and social conventions, a new-media artist on the transformative effect of street festivals, and an art historian on the resurgence of outdoor art. Lisa Robertson's blending of poetry, urban geography, social history, and the arts in her excerpt, `Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture,' provides a fitting conclusion to a collection that will prove of interest to anyone concerned with what she calls the `spiritual domain'—as much the land stretching out from our persons, as our immediate surroundings that contain the mutable threshold between within and without (170). It is up to us to rap on the glass. "- Patrick Barron, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 17:4, Autumn 2010
"Containing fiction and visual art in addition to more conventional essays, this book is a lively discussion of the role that public spaces play--or could play--in modern cities. "- Research Book News, February 2010
"To most familiar issues of public space and its fate, this collection brings insights that should be fatal to naive assumptions. "- Jon Spayde, Public Art Review, Spring/Summer 2010