What Is the Commons of the Suburb?

While topically, this article from December about the Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis is obviously dated, it indirectly raises an important point about public commons (boldface mine):

Judge Karen Janisch granted the order as it pertained to three named leaders of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, but stopped short of issuing an order against Black Lives Matter protesters at large. The order upheld that the mall is private property, and the current state of the law allows Mall of America to prohibit public demonstration.

But just because the judge says Mall of America can expel protesters from “private property” doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. The mall has become the current day replacement for the town square of days gone by. The rights of such quasi-public places must be balanced with the necessary conversations that we can no longer ignore regarding disparities in the criminal justice system.

When one thinks about it, there are very few places in most suburbs that qualify as public spaces. In some very old towns, there might be a small common or green, kept largely as a scenic attraction. Others have some parks, which are usually ballparks, playgrounds, or nature trails. For meetings, I suppose one could use the library or a public school.

But there is no publicly-owned commons where people can spontaneously meet without requiring permission from government. Leaving aside the symbolism, a free citizenry needs such places, but we have consciously made decision after decision to build communities without them.

And then we wonder why we are so isolated and split from each other.

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3 Responses to What Is the Commons of the Suburb?

  1. ocschwar says:

    In Wisconsin, the “public square” such as it is, consists of pedestrian highway overpasses, and the discourse in it consists of holding LED lighted tweets to show the traffic underneath. (Overpass Light Brigade)

    In Boston Park Street Church still has a window with a lectern facing Tremont Street. It was installed so preachers could heckle unitarians in the street. It was used by abolitionists. It has not been used for a century now because there’s no point using it to preach to 5 lanes of car traffic.

    And then there’s Occupy Wall Street, which t me seemed like an attempt to recreate a physical agora more than it was anything else.

  2. doug says:

    I guess what we call suburbs here in my part of the frozen north are very different from the US definition of suburbs.
    Within a 10 minute walk of my place I can get to three small to medium park areas, a fairly large public open area along a major roadway and light rail transit line, a large public multi-use area with several soccer fields and a baseball diamond, another cluster of baseball diamonds, and an assortment of other public spaces. If I want to drive for 10 minutes or less I have my choice of three reasonably large parks (each an area of over a city block, one much larger), one of the largest “urban” parks in North America, and enough small parks and public areas that it would take me much more than ten minutes just to think of them. Youse US Americans ain’t livin’ right.

  3. mrtoads says:

    So, it seems that the Constitutionally-guaranteed (such as it is) right of ‘freedom to assemble’ is kind of limited these days. After all, if you can only ‘assemble’ at acceptable locations, and if those acceptable locations are few and far between, that right isn’t doing you much good. Of course, if you’re the Right Kind of citizen, that’s not a problem.

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