When private property masquerades as public space: the shifting face of publicness in London’s city squares


  • Jessie Martin




"Access to space is fundamentally related to social status and power...changing the allocation of space is inherently related to changing society" (Weisman, 1992)


In contemporary London, a pattern has emerged whereby private corporations create and take ownership of public space, but the type of publicness they promote is conditional. In private-public space, private property masquerades as public land with rules of inhabitation often impenetrable, unknowable until they are broken. International owners activate networks of relations beyond the local; I question how private-public space fits with local communities, and how these networks shift notions of authenticity and inauthenticity in relation to public belonging. There is a specific focus on the public square as a form of private-public space, because the city square has a long-established spatial identity that embodies notions of publicity. The public square stimulates and contains public life, and neoliberal dynamics of ownership and management threaten public assemblages. Private-public squares do not fit into the majority of theories that have been developed on place, public space and private dynamics, but they are exemplative of a type of space increasingly prominent in Britain. I focus on four private-public squares in London to examine what can be learnt when a format of space is reproduced under incompatible conditions. How do these spaces work on a quotidian level and how does this intervention in public life shift urban identities and behavioural paradigms? The basis of my research is to examine concepts of publicness and privateness and how they apply to private-public squares in London, whilst utilising the practice of photography, observation and inhabitation to gain empirical ethnographic evidence. My research intends to assemble a toolkit to facilitate understanding about pseudo-public space, rather than ascribe fixed meanings to a subject which requires specificity.