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Why public space matters

Public spaces and public goods in the city have always been a matter of state power and public administration, and such spaces and goods do not necessarily make a commons, as social theorist David Harvey warns us. Throughout the history, there has always been a struggle over how the production of and access to public space and public goods is to be regulated, by whom, and in whose interests. In other words, there is an ongoing attempt to appropriate the public space and the public goods in the city for a common purpose.

Urban Commons in post-soviet countries
The city has nowadays become a paradigmatic site of action of the neoliberal-capitalist strategies and processes, but also a place of various practices of resistance, attempting to create possible social alternatives. As the philosophers Hardt and Negri would say, we should view “the metropolis as a factory for the production of the common”.

The question and social practice of commoning is extremely delicate in all post socialist and in particular post-soviet countries. The Soviet system has left its imprint: local populations have often no sense of “civic ownership” in relation to the city and its infrastructure. Since the 1990s, public space in the region is going through radical transformations, between commerce and omnipresent political interests. This process excludes many voices and seems to be irreversible, leaving people unprepared to consider public space as a common space: both collective and non-commodified, off-limits to the logic of market valuations.

Civic initiatives
Under the term “transition”, a key word for describing the social, political and economical condition of the post-socialist countries in Europe from the 1990 on, one can distinguish two main features: domination of market forces and abandoning of social projects. The most evident consequence of such a “transition process” manifests in the non-controlled and non-transparent inflow of the private interests in (managing) public sphere. The absence of the social/civic element in that governance, through the course of time, is reflected in a significant exploitation of public resources. In the situation where even state supported institutions (nominally- public) are being managed by the dynamics of particular rather than public interest(s), the role and the importance of civic initiatives, independent cultural subjects who manage to re-articulate the cultural field as a sphere of societal reflection (and discussion), with a special focus on the public space, is unquestionable.

On this background, SPACES concentrated on the artistic and cultural qualities of public space: artists and cultural workers creating and organizing public space programmes, being aware of the context they are dealing with and addressing local audiences. We have set a social and cultural laboratory with a potential for democratic development and social cohesion.