Where - and what - is public space?

Saturday 7 November, 18.30 until 20.00, Zé dos Bois Gallery, Rua da Barroca, 59 1200-047 Lisboa (Bairro Alto), Portugal International Satellites

Admission is free. To reserve a space contact:
reservas@zedosbois.org | +351 21 343 0205 |  www.zedosbois.org

Democratically debating common issues has never been so important, necessary and challenging as it is today. But what and where is democratic space today?

Two thousand years ago, the Athenian agora was the heart of democratic debate… except that slaves, women and foreigners were excluded. After World War II, British Prime Minister stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried”. And author Martin Jacques now suggests that China’s one-party state system “is one in which the West is going to have to learn from”. When society clearly finds it difficult to endorse democracy, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the rise of the European Union with its ‘democratic deficit’ that removes accountability to the ordinary citizen.

It seems that we have always been uncertain and confused about democracy and democratic space. So does this mean that democratic debate a fallacy? If public space is where the public gathers en masse, is it a place where we can truly be individuals - or must we always be part of a group?  How can individuals best express themselves as self-determining citizens when public life today is so conformist?  Is the public sphere within democracies, so often policed by regulations, a space we should defend?  Or in such circumstances is real “public space” to be found in “virtual space? Is this a new democracy? 

Yet for many the true heart of democratic public space remains the neighborhoods of city – perhaps personified by artistic quarters such as the Bairro Alto. But who determines what the values of public space are – or should be? Hannah Arendt wrote that public space is where people act rather than work: ‘it is a space where political action takes place urged by freedom and the need for self-realisation of the individual’. But if public space is the arena where we, the public, make something of ourselves, then do we really need public authorities to cultivate engagement through public space?  To what extent can public space create a public? Should public space have to bear this burden at all?


Madalena Corte-Real
sociologist , FAS – Fundo de Arquitectura Social

Alastair Donald
associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council

Ana Jara
founding member and manager, ARTÉRIA – Humanizing Architecture

Diogo Seixas Lopes
partner, Barbas Lopes Arquitectos

Luis T Pereira
founding partner, [A] ainda arquitectura architecture studio, Porto

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Produced by
Alastair Donald associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council
Joana Varajão architect, RA\\ Architecture & Design Studio
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