Contesting Public Space and Citizenship

Susanna Schaller & Gabriella Modan

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Schaller, S. & Modan, G. (1). Contesting Public Space and Citizenship. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 24(4), 394–407.

Business Improvement Districts , Community Mapping , Discourse Analysis , Public Choice Theory

While research on business improvement districts (BIDs) has considered the constraints BIDs can place on the negotiation of public space and citizenship, little work has focused on the process of establishing neighborhood BIDs (NBIDs), and few scholars have examined perceptions of public space held by actual neighborhood constituents. This article analyzes a participatory mapping project and messages on a neighborhood e-mail list to compare the visions of place expressed by disempowered community members and by an NBID proposal. Our analysis illuminates how local power relations and inequalities can become inscribed in urban planning projects like NBIDs.

Main finding
The Mount Pleasant case study highlights the class and ethnic conflicts over claims to and interpretations of public space that BIDs and NBIDs mask by responding to and institutionalize the vision, needs, and desires of dominant groups of constituents and stakeholders through selective resource allocation. The study specifically finds that surveillance of public space and restriction of citizenship to consumership through the NBID process caused intense neighborhood conflict by deepening historical class, ethnic, and racial prejudices. The authors note that the deliberate reclaiming of public spaces as truly public forums in which citizen engagement can be expanded is a responsibility for planning practitioners.

Description of method used in the article
Examine disputes on the Mount Pleasant Forum e-mail list, as well as conflicting perspectives that emerged from the mapping project to get at perspectives about neighborhood belonging and uses of public space that are at odds with the NBID proposal. The mapping project was conducted in the spring and summer of 2000 as the first stage of a large-scale neighborhood visioning project run by a Latino CDC spearheading the NBID.

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