Domestication by Cappuccino or a Revenge on Urban Space? Control and Empowerment in the Management of Public Spaces

Rowland Atkinson

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Atkinson, R. (1). Domestication by Cappuccino or a Revenge on Urban Space? Control and Empowerment in the Management of Public Spaces. Urban Studies, 40(9), 1829–1843.

This paper explores some of the more extreme tendencies in the management of public space to consider whether current policy directions, in this case in central Scotland, are driven by a desire to empower or control users of such spaces. The title of the paper is taken from the theoretical lenses provided by Neil Smith and Sharon Zukin in their differential views on trends in the management and control of public spaces. The paper focuses on two local case studies to examine the possibility that a ‘revanchist’ element is emerging in policies towards public spaces in Britain. The paper concludes that programmes designed to deal with urban and public space are a reaction to both real and perceived problems. However, there has been a privileging of a policy discourse which celebrates the displacement of social problems rather their resolution. It is argued that such a discourse cannot ultimately provide sustainable policies for the regulation of public spaces and threatens the inclusion of some users of public spaces who may not be considered to be legitimate patrons. While this does more to foster fearful than inclusive public spaces, a thorny question remains over whether some degree of exclusion is a necessary price for policies which seek to secure public space and maintain a wider quality of life.

Main finding
After reviewing two "extreme case" policies (a youth curfew and zero-tolerance policing), enacted in Scotland, to determine if a revanchist urban agenda was at hand, the author found connections between desires for a sanitized public realm and economic motives to secure the future of cities, like Glasgow, as places that would attract investment with the removal of social problems. However, it is difficult to answer, unequivocally, if there is a revanchist trend in British policies dealing with urban space. If it is recognized that these policies are intended, in many ways, to safeguard the public - exactly who the public is proves hard to define. Furthermore, devolution of decision-making and localized discretionary powers produce differing and variable concerns regarding public space at the urban scale which are also complicated by the desires of freely moving capital, welfare restructuring, and notions of open access to all. It should be noted that it's an exploratory analysis, yet the author has identified threads of revanchism in both the curfew program and policing strategies that beg further examination of the policies. These threads are categorized as: modes of governance, programming, dystopian imagery, and references to economic objectives. The overarching issue is that these policies (and others like it) tend to focus on the symptoms and not the underlying structural reasons for inequality and social problems.

Description of method used in the article
The author selected "extreme cases" of policies to examine whether elements of a revanchist urbanism agenda were present in policies affecting public space in Britain. The two policies selected are a-typical and have a specific geographical and social target - they are 1) The Hamiliton Child Safety Initiative' youth curfew and 2) Zero-tolerance policing that cracks down on minor offenses to prevent major ones.

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