Civil Rights Meet Civil Engineering: Urban Public Space and Traffic Logic

The scholarly analysis of public space, despite ideological differences, has tended to focus on the political and ethical dimensions of public space, construed as a site for encounters between people. This has been at the expense of what the author terms the “traffic logic,” a pervasive administrative view of public space that emphasizes pedestrian flow and motion, and tends not to discriminate between things and bodies. The paper illustrates the prevalence and effects of traffic logic with reference to By-Laws in the city of Vancouver. The author notes its important consequences through brief discussions of cases involving public protests and begging. While important, traffic logic’s pervasiveness and bureaucratic commonsensicality render its reach and effects harder to discern. As a powerful yet mundane form of urban governance, it demands closer scrutiny.