Madrid's Retiro Park as publicly-private space and the spatial problems of spatial theory

Benjamin Fraser

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Fraser, B. (1). Madrid's Retiro Park as publicly-private space and the spatial problems of spatial theory. Social & Cultural Geography, 8(5), 673–700.

culture , Madrid , private , production , public , Retiro , space

The scholarly focus on the production of space necessitates a thorough reassessment of the static categories employed in the analysis of spatial processes. Emphasizing space as a process, this essay calls attention to the recent implication of Madrid’s Retiro Park in larger processes of capital accumulation. At the same time, it highlights the insufficiency of the tempting yet problematic distinction between public and private space that obtains in easy solutions to the struggles over city-space. As many critics have pointed out, there is design flaw in the idea of public space—it can never explain how a given space, such as a park, comes to be free of the ‘private’ (personal and structural) interests operating throughout its societal context. The story of the Retiro ultimately foregrounds the pivotal role of city-space in the drive for capitalist intercity-competition and suggests that the latter process is insufficiently confronted by idealized notions of the role truly ‘public’ spaces might play in radical democracy and citizenship.

Main finding
The author argued we must challenge the blind acceptance of public/private dichotomies for this lends to an understanding of capitalism as something either active or inactive/present or absent instead of being deeply embedded and intertwined with both spatial and cultural processes - such as those producing city-space. He suggested that struggles to resist capitalist processes of accumulation supporting privatization of spaces, like this case study park, must engage in discourse, perceptions, and both the material and immaterial processes extending beyond the park’s space itself. Furthermore, the author suggested the interrelated and mutually reinforcing issues of gentrification, tourism, racism, and heavy policing of urban space found in the case study park are best understood within methods of capital accumulation. Thus, from the context of greater systems of accumulation, place-specific social injustices become nested in larger patterns of inequality and social struggle.

Description of method used in the article
This paper describes a theoretically driven analysis of the cultural and spatial production of space by drawing on key theorists to formulate an argument in support of challenging the conceptually static categories of public/private urban space. For example, Henri Lefebvre’s triad, David Harvey’s analysis of capital accumulation, and Henri Bergson’s notion of intellectual abstractions overlaid on and influencing the material world, have informed the author’s development. Lynn Staeheli’s work has been especially influential in the author’s analysis of the park space such that individual, private interests and actions cannot be separated from material, public space.

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