Campaigners, including author Will Self, have protested outside City Hall against the increasing privatisation of London’s public space
The novelist helped lead the demonstration – named Space Probe Alpha and described as a ’mass trespass’ – in front of the headquarters of the Greater London Authority on Saturday (13 February).
Self warned of a ‘threat to national psyche’ being brought on by the increased loss of genuine public space.
‘What people don’t understand is that it does affect you psychically,’ he said. ‘It constrains you in how you think about what you can do in a space, and it constrains your imagination. It’s like a condensing of time and money and space – it needs to be resisted.’
Self, added: ‘The kind of ludic, playful potential of living in a city is being significantly impoverished by this kind of stuff.’
The protesters cited such spaces as Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park, and Broadgate as public spaces which are governed by the companies that own them.
In recent years tension had increased over privatised public areas across the UK (AJ 05.04.12).
Other speakers included comedian Mark Thomas, artist Bob and Roberta Smith, lecturer on urban space Anna Minton and Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry.
Berry said if made mayor she would introduce rules to ensure any publicly accessible spaces in the capital would not be governed by rules of corporations but by the law of the land.
Her plans, which would be written into the London Plan, would mean that owners of public spaces could not exclude the public from areas of London.
This could have implications for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed Garden Bridge. Its owners have said they plan to restrict opening hours and could close the space for private parties.
Speaking about the Garden Bridge and whether he thought it would be a success, Self said: ’It could be great – it will be shit.’ (Will Self joins London ‘mass trespass’ over privatisation of public space)
’Peaceful assembly of large groups, taking photographs, mass trespass: all of these activities are forbidden in privately owned public space. On Saturday hundreds of people, including Will Self, Mark Thomas, Bradley Garrett and Sian Berry took over the privatised space outside City Hall and did all these things as security guards stood on and watched. Space is created by economic and political forces but it is also created by people and Saturday’s event showed it is possible to change the ways privately owned parts of the city are used. This will be first of many of such events.’