Public space

2 Aug

One of the things I find remarkable about China is how the people take over public space, or semi-private space, for their own needs, shamelessly. Although it can be seen as a form of undue appropriation, it is also a form of wisdom, in an over-crowded country.

This can take many forms. Hanging clothes on a street sign, because it’s there anyway, and it won’t detract from its function.

Using the side of the road for a little breakfast place – the cars won’t run right into you, and the pedestrians can use the other side of the road.

Or, stranger still, using the river as a swimming pool (it’s probably cleaner than the public pools, say Aaron, although there are dead fish around).

More surprising is using the bridge as an open air changing room (the photo’s a bit too blurry to perv, but yes, the man on the left is naked). This is probably the weirdest, for our privacy obsessed culture like ours. But when you think that taxi driver often pee on street corners – facing the road – changing under a bridge will seem pretty mild.

This is cultural, but has legal implications. How does it work. Who owns public space, and how is it regulated, in countries where this does not happen? Is it a law enforcement question – does the police simply not care? Or are the regulations different. And if they are – is there anything we could learn from China?


2 Responses to “Public space”

  1. Philip August 3, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    Contrast at the other extreme: here in Melbourne they’ve roped off half the footpath outside my workplace with bright orange flags so that construction workers can have their lunch alongside their machinery without risk of encountering other more conventional users of the path.

  2. Tessa August 3, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    Thanks for the post Julien. One of my favourite aspects of china was regularly seeing people dancing, singing, and exercising in entertaining ways in public spaces. My take is that there are different cultural norms determining what’s okay to do in public. I loved being able to sing along to my iPod without attracting strange looks!

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