Most Creative Use of the Phrase ‘Public Space’, Ever

From a certain Khoo Chun Yok, in the ST Forum:

Why are void decks so, er, void?

HDB void decks strike me as under-used spaces.
Is this due to:

  • Fire hazard?
  • Insufficient human traffic?
  • Lack of air-conditioning?
  • Our collective love of blank walls?
  • HDB restrictions on commercial use?
  • Our national obsession with shopping centres?
  • Need to have space for the occasional wedding or funeral?
  • Need to let second-storey residents enjoy a little peace and quiet?

Whatever the reasons, it is a great pity that so much public space should be left void, empty. A cafe would be nice. Or perhaps a bookstore. A newsstand, perhaps.

If rent is low – and why shouldn’t it be, the space is empty anyway – these small businesses could survive, and give us an alternative to shopping centres.

Public spaces need to be occupied, for them to belong to the public.

I am sorry, but a newsstand, a bookstore or a cafe is not space that belongs to the public. The owners of such establishments can dictate what kind of behaviour is allowed in their premises, who is allowed to enter their premises, what times the premises are available to the public, and so on. In fact, such places are commonly known as pseudo-public spaces:

…pseudo-public spaces include Malls, theme parks, and sports stadiums. A pseudo-public space resembles a public space with its diversity of people. But Malls, stadiums, and theme parks are privatized spaces that are “sanitized” of certain elements. Attempts to control free speech in public spaces pale in comparison to the success of pseudo-public spaces in controlling speech. For example, most Malls prohibit leafleting or making speeches. Mall security guards routinely remove homeless people as well as anyone wearing what they deem to be gang colors. As a private space, Malls can control speech and looks. They can “sanitize” their environment. And they can prohibit activities that do not lead to their raison d’etre — consuming commodities.

Well, it seems that the only notion of ‘useful’ public space Khoo Chun Yok has is that which forwards the goal of consuming commodities.

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