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The struggle to reclaim public space in the interests of corporate freedom

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Ian Martin reframes public space in the minds of the British people

MONDAY. A few months ago I awarded myself outline planning permission for a controversial ‘mind farm’.

It wasn’t easy. Part of my consciousness had serious objections to having unsightly ‘mind turbines’ in a picturesque part of the mental landscape. But the stark reality is that conventional thinking resources, fossilised for as long as I can remember, are finite. Alternative means of converting thought into fee-generating energy are urgently required.

After a lengthy private inquiry the objections were emphatically overruled. My mind farm is now fully functional, harnessing those gusts of lateral thinking that otherwise would be blowing aimlessly around my hippocampus like litter in a car park.

Of course the scoffers and tossers were sceptical. ‘Lateral thinking may have been an earner in the 1990s, but who pays for that sort of thing now?’ Well, scoffers and tossers, I’ll tell you. The government’s Public Responsibility Unit, that’s who.

TUESDAY. To Westminster, for a thinking breakfast. Technically it’s under the auspices of the Public Responsibility Unit. Physically it’s under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in a spartan PFI dining room grudgingly converted from a wartime bunker.

Every politico with even a glancing responsibility for the built environment is there, including architecture minister the hon. Aeneas Upmother-Brown. He is accompanied as usual by his swarm of pet bees. Their choral hum elevates the seriousness of the situation, which is spelled out for us by their master.

‘I have the latest polling results here and they make appalling reading, mm. According to our sample of coalition MPs, only 32 per cent think the public can be trusted with public space. And only 17 per cent think the private sector is getting the support it deserves from shoppers and pedestrians. We need to re-imagine the whole notion of public space, mm, before militant members of the public start organising unpleasant dissent. Ah, my precious bees. Consider the frailty of humankind, mm. Now, spatial opinion-formers begone! Only one of you will be chosen for this special task…’

Oh yeah. Also in attendance: every rival I have in the field of architecturalised narrative consultancy. No such thing as teamwork here. We’re all bastards, all in it to win it. Luckily, my head is full of mind-farmed inspiration.

WEDNESDAY. Internal brainstorming, tossing new ideas for public space back and forth within myself. By close of business I’ve rejected pay-per-view architecture, premium strolling lanes in historic cities, monetised queuing and a human congestion charge based on body fat density.

THURSDAY. Prep for my presentation tomorrow. Psych myself up by remembering that everything wrong with the private sector is the public sector’s fault.

FRIDAY. Eschewing PowerPoint and props I speak from my heart, to the bees.

Advertising is everywhere. Public space, once innocent and unblemished, is now slathered in ads. These corporate messages cost a lot of money to make and display, but some may be unsuitable for children. This is an issue of parental responsibility. Adults who do an excellent job at home, monitoring what their children watch on TV, simply abandon this filtering process in the outside world.

Let’s say a father is taking his young daughter into central London. During even a shortish journey through public space she will encounter posters depicting horror, terror, armed violence and sexual objectification. This is all very well for the father, but wholly unsuitable for the little girl. It’s no excuse for the father to say he didn’t know what the public space was like, he’s been there before.

I propose we remove all ambiguities with a Certification of Public Space Bill. Summary: grade the civic environment in exactly the same way that films are classified. It would then be parents’ responsibility to keep their children away from X-rated environments such as public transport, high streets, evangelical churches etc and to accompany them when required (PG) eg in pubs. As with gated communities and privatised town centres, public space certification would help keep people in their right place.

Everyone in the room, even the buzzing swarm, looks impressed. To the clear annoyance of the unsuccessful consultant thinkers, I am appointed to reframe public space in the minds of the British people.

In your FACE, the part of me that objected to the mind farm.

SATURDAY. Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical football. Autobranded Egotism 6, Introverted Altruism 0.

SUNDAY. Self-contextualise in the recliner.

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