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  • The Invention of Public Space: Designing for Inclusion in Lindsay's New York by Mariana Mogilevich
  • Noah Allison (bio)
Mariana Mogilevich
The Invention of Public Space: Designing for Inclusion in Lindsay's New York
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020
240 pages, 10 colored plates, 75 black-and-white illustrations
ISBN: 9781517905767, $30.00 PB

In The Politics, Aristotle makes a fundamental distinction between oikos, the household, and polis, the political community. Existing alongside the oikos, the polis is often translated as "city-state," and has territorial and political connotations. According to Aristotle, the polis was established "with a view to the common good" and it represented the sovereignty of the "civic body."1 In other words, the polis had the potential to become a space of political equality where men could assemble, deliberate, and make decisions that ideally would benefit citizens. While such ideology has certainly evolved—primarily to include women and children—Aristotle's polis construct continues to shape spatial practitioners' orthodoxy concerning city spaces to this day. For instance, designers often present public spaces as universal goods essential to equitable and sustainable urban development. However, history has shown time and again that the existence of public spaces in and of itself does not guarantee anyone's right to access, occupy, or control such places. In this way, the political promise of public space and its frequent outcome of inequitable urban development illustrates a paradoxical ideology. Mariana Mogilevich subsequently argues that public space ideals are never realized because of specific historical processes. To illustrate such processes, Mogilevich carefully presents how design approaches in the later twentieth century reproduced contemporary public space ideologies in her debut book, The Invention of Public Space: Designing for Inclusion in Lindsay's New York.

Mogilevich—a historian of architecture and urbanism—contends that in order to make sense of inclusive public space ideologies, they must be understood not in terms of access, ownership, or their relationship to the state, but rather as physical lived spaces. Through this lens, The Invention of Public Space details multiple open-space experiments in New York City under Mayor John V. Lindsay. Elected amid an "urban crisis" marked by White flight, he imagined the city as a model for fun, freedom, and diversity during his tenure between 1966–1973. Such vision gave unprecedented agency to his new government, which he staffed with "young urbanists"—architects, landscape architects, planners, and administrators who sought to ensure that the city provided personal freedom and a sense of belonging, an outcome they believed would stimulate full participation in city life.

To be sure, Lindsay was no master builder and did not develop a totalizing vision. Rather, under his direction, public spaces were designed for and by New York City's heterogeneous publics in a broad array of places: existing city parks, undefined plazas, streets, vacant lots, and waterfronts. Analyzing archival materials, oral histories, and published accounts, interviews, films, and photographs, Mogilevich meticulously traces how these five types of experiments were respectively interpreted at the moment by designers, researchers, critics, and users. Composed of delightful narratives and captivating illustrations that demonstrate how psychological discourses, public participation, and urban scale informed these projects' designs, The Invention of Public Space significantly reveals the changing and contradictory ways that urban space produces political meaning and citizenship.

After introducing the politics of "Lindsay's New York," each chapter focuses on a different open-space typology. Readers first learn how one design, in particular, promised a solution to the social and spatial problems plaguing the city. Although predating Lindsay's election, the Jacob Riis Plaza in a Lower East Side public housing complex sought to replace a landscape of isolation and marginalization with an environment for individual experience and personal development. Guided by contemporary psychological understandings, M. Paul Friedberg designed the plaza as a sequence of four demarcated spaces called "outdoor rooms." The four rooms were delineated in terms of their uses, alternating between quiet and active spaces. Such design had a sense of progression and enclosure, creating a topography of experience believed to help children develop into their "best selves." In fostering free play, individual development, and aesthetic experience, the plaza thus forged a new...


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pp. 124-126
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