On Defending the Public Square | Edward Anderson
Firstly, relax because we’re not talking about statues. Throughout my travels around Spain, I’ve noticed the huge difference in the quality of life and ambience of the area based on the use of the public square. Namely, whether it’s been hijacked or not. It wasn’t until arriving in Caceres, where a serene narrow park connects the new city to the old square and onto a beautifully lit Plaza Mayor, that the night and day difference with Barcelona and Seville was clear. That being, the fact that families and old people felt safe to use the public squares, free as they were from the thuggish anti-social behaviour that had taken them over elsewhere.
In Caceres, children played in the park as their parents sat talking (socially distanced of course) with relatives. Old people strolled slowly through the park or sat on a bench, newspaper in hand, soaking in the last of the summer. This was both from the state of the morning until well into the night, a perfect mix of social ages and groups all making respectful use of shared public space. The best of conservatism in action.
Now, let’s compare that to Barcelona’s own public spaces. Parc de la Ciutadella has been lost. I saw one family in there and they were constantly by those incessantly demanding you buy ‘agua, beer’ and not exactly respecting social distancing. The spots in the park where a family would have sat in the past are now hijacked by illegal immigrants, the air choking with weed. All in all, what would once have been a place of relaxing and enjoyment for the residents of Barcelona has been hijacked.
Normally, this is worse with the metro and whole streets but due to Covid the police have finally grown a pair and moved many of them off the street (or more likely, without tourists they have stopped bothering). Now, I know that this is largely the effect of allowing large groups of people to illegally enter the country and the solution is to round them up, put them into Banksy’s house and any other human who thinks that promoting human trafficking and social dumping makes you are better person than those of us who oppose it.
However, it isn’t just Barcelona. Sevilla was the same with areas by the lake taken up again by groups smoking weed and booming out music, colonising what should be a public space for their own selfish use until inevitably people like them will be the only ones who risk using it.
This act of treating the public space as your own private fiefdom to be claimed certainly feels more common now than even ten years ago, although it isn’t a new phenomenon. Everytime you have seen a playground broken or a bench sprawled with graffiti, it is the start of the attempt to steal the public space. The advent of portable speakers seems to have only accelerated this trend.
For the right winger this is the inevitable ‘tragedy of the commons’ as the public space that everyone owns, no one owns. Of course, it should be pointed out that in major cities the large amounts of diversity via immigration (a liberal policy) is proven to lower public trust and willingness to support public goods, is heavily responsible for this erosion. Still, their solution is to privatise it and we have an example of this, again, from Barcelona. Parc Guell already had a section privatised when I lived there in 2017 but a large part of the park was open in the evenings and day for free.
Now though, after the space was constantly (you guess it) hijacked by tat sellers taking it over and others trying to push crap, it was completely privatised around the clock. Oh but Ed, if you are a resident of Barca you can enter for free? Yes you can, but seeing as so many of people born in Barcelona had to move to the outskirts (such as Hospitalet which is two mins outside the Barca zone) and many of the houses in the centre were airbnbed, a sizeable majority of people from Barcelona have now lost access to their own cultural icon and public space. It’s lost, probably forever.
Now, this might be a good outcome for the liberal but for those of us from a conservative sentiment, the real tragedy is that the government found it easier to privatise the space than actually defend it.
It’s not just in major cities where this happens and I know from my own experiences in the UK it is also becoming tolerated. A society could stop it, if it wanted to. You could bin off all those diversity awareness officers on their sizeable sums of public cash and replace them with some real public servants: wardens. Their job would be frighteningly simple, to defend the public space. Now, of course my reactionary left-wing views means my wardens would start by immediately stubbing the weed out on smokers faces when they refuse to put it out and repeatedly kicking people’s heads in with metal plated boots until they can no longer here the music from their portable speakers as their ears are pouring with blood.
This might be seen as extreme (it definitely is extreme Ed) but it’s certainly preferable to the other side of the liberal coin: surrender. This type of touchy-feely, soft left who want the government to spend more on public services (such as libraries) but would watch them become unusable. A brief example of this comes from my own experience, where Shrewsbury Library (a fantastic building, with great staff and a place where I took many hours of refuge) begun to have people constantly banging on the computers or talking loudly on phones but the staff seemed unwilling or too meek to stop it.
Now, the people in Shrewsbury library are lovely but sometimes you also need an arse who will educate people in how they are supposed to use public services and if they can’t learn, get booted. Fetishising poor behaviour or ‘understanding’ until only that type of person will go there kills the wider public’s desire to pay for it. Now, being blunt may come across as uncaring or not ‘inclusive’ enough but that’s simply because those of us who aren’t well off know something that is all too easily forgotten:
The rich will always have their parks, their areas of leisure and quiet spaces to read or learn, safely cocooned in their gated communities. It’s the child who doesn’t have the luxury of a quiet and secure family home that loses out when the library is not defended. Or the young family that wants to take their children to the park in the knowledge they will be safe but finds themselves surrounded by groups thuggishly hijacking it. The poorest with the least opportunities lose out when the takeover of public spaces is tolerated. Let’s hope that when we re-emerge fully from covid, the lack of toleration for selfish individuals spreads backs into our public spaces as well.
Photo owned by Edward Anderson.