Changing cities
Changing cities

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Changing cities

5.4 Urban spaces of public address

The work of the Australian geographer and planning theorist Kurt Iveson is helpful in order to better appreciate the importance of urban space as a medium for the communicative practices through which public action is formed around issues of shared concern. Iveson’s work is concerned with spelling out the relationship between urban space and public communication without putting a premium on the ideal of synchronous, face-to-face interaction.

Activity 3

Read Kurt Iveson’s paper, The city versus the media? Mapping the mobile geographies of public address [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . For this activity, focus on the first six paragraphs of the paper. As you read, pay particular attention to the distinction he draws between mediated and unmediated forms of interaction, and how this distinction leads to a focus on the relationships between different spaces.

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Figure 15 Urban space and political communication: election campaign posters in South Africa, a routine form of public communication in urban space

In asking about the importance of urban spaces as communicative mediums of public address, Iveson identifies three interconnected dimensions to the public quality of urban space: urban space functions as a venue for public action, as an object of action and as the subject of action itself, as the public. In each case urban space is, as he puts it, ‘fundamentally related to (rather than opposed to) media practices’.

Activity 4

Return to Iveson’s essay The city versus the media?. This time, focus on the sections ‘Urban places as venues of public address’, ‘Urban places as objects of public address’ and ‘The city as “the public”’. As you do so, you might want to consider how his distinctions between the city as venue, object and public overlap with the distinctions in the framework of critical spatial thinking outlined in this course.

Iveson provides an analysis of urbanisation as a process which involves the generation of myriad spaces of public address, and of being addressed.

The dimension of urban space as an object of public concern corresponds to the first aspect we have identified – the ways in which urbanisation generates potential issues of public concern.

The dimension in which places serve as the venues of public address maps on to the aspect which is the main focus of this section: understanding the role of urban space in providing the communicative resources in which people come to see themselves as parts of larger collectives sharing identities and interests.

And the third of Iveson’s dimensions, where the city is itself understood to represent ‘the public’, speaks directly to the third aspect of the critical spatial thinking framework: the question of which actors are empowered to act effectively in response to urban issues.

With respect to both the third of Iveson’s dimensions and the third aspect of the analytical framework of critical spatial thinking outlined in Sections 2 and 3, the question of whether urban places should be thought of as an effective agent of concerted public action is far from clear-cut. It is to this issue – whether or not ‘the urban’ is an effective agent of concerted collective action – that we now turn.

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