How Political Are Streets?
University of Alberta
There is a common assumption about space and politics in the city. It is that the street has a uniquely valuable relationship to democracy and that the right to occupy and use the street is, in many ways, tantamount to the right to act politically. This relationship has always been taken for granted in communitarian and radical political frameworks; now the street has turned up as an object of desire from postmodern, queer, and other critical perspectives. My talk looks at how the street serves as a touchstone for a wide range of political hopes and expectations. I focus on the political characteristics that are attributed to the street, asking what the contribution of the street is to the public life of cities and whether streets are really as political as people assume. I argue that because of the unclear boundary between public and private space in the early twenty-first century city, democratic politics in the urban public sphere can be wedded to the street and at the same time distanced from it.