Monday, December 31, 2012

Public Space: NYC & Skopje part 1

This months cover by K.K.W,
Central Park, Fuji-film 400 
New York & Skopje: contrasts in "public space" part 1. By K.K.W

Central Park 2010, fujifilm 400,
Canon 28 40mm lens.
Photo by K.K.W
Public: of or concerning the people as a whole. Open to or shared by all the  people of an area or country.

Space: A continuous area or expanse that is free, available or unoccupied.

"The public realm is what we own and control...the streets, squares, parks, infrastructure and public buildings make up the fundamental element in any community-the framework around which everything else grows."(1)    
Union Square Park West, NYC.
Photo by K.K.W
On this beginning were going to compare, as best we can, two very different cities in order that the one will influence the other.
Starting with NYC (The Empire State) there are many kinds of "Public Spaces", the easiest to site are its parks - Central Park(Manhattan), Prospect Park(Brooklyn), an smaller parks like Union Square park, etc. Both Central & Prospect Park were designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Clavert Vaux.    

All three are open year-round, usually have events based on calendar holidays, or seasonal ("Shakespeare in the park"[Central park], or "summerstage"[Prospect park]), and major places to meet, relax, read, eat, enjoy the sun, play chess, and otherwise socialize. There are often small musical performances (if they involve amplified equipment you need a permit), artists, merchants, food vendors,and or other creative acts that draws a crowd. 

Its this very urban element that provides much needed outdoor activity which leads to people engaging one another, easing tensions, a place to get-away when one cannot go elsewhere and be in an area of grass/trees and some kind of nature. Ideas sprout & are exchanged, people tend to develop a sense of civic pride/responsibility.      

Image courtesy of  K.K.W
The 2nd kind of "public space" in NYC, having become more prevalent within the last 10-20 years, is those that are built with new "modern architecture (a 1961 zoning resolution gives incentive program for private developers who add these spaces). Many of the them are indoors and feature tables/chairs and free wi-fi.  
Public Space @ 575 5th ave Manhattan.
Photo by K.K.W
Often these spaces have small cafes or places to eat (@ 575 5th there's a Starbucks cafe) and can be very inviting or a place to meet-up. Generally you can only sit and read, use your laptop computer, smart-phone and talk, making for a somewhat restrictive environment. And while they are "open the public", most tend to cater to upscale people who live in the "modern" buildings or work there (which is understandable). This does result in some of these people being intent on keeping other constituencies out of the space (class warfare).   
Interior of 575 5th Ave public space
Photo by K.K.W

Tibetan Protest @ Union Square Park East.
Photo by K.K.W

Irena Andonova - Visual artist
& friend  from Skopje.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
Skopje is a city every bit as complex as NYC, with a lot of similarities, though at the same time quite different in that has gone from a socialist system to a capitalist one. The city suffered a major earthquake in 1963 which destroyed almost 80% of it (This was during the time of Yugoslavia of which Skopje, capital of The Republic of Macedonia was a part of until it declares independence in 1991). An international coalition of engineers and architects worked to help rebuild much of the city. 

Skopje is learning to catch up to what NYC & other European cities are in "modern" terms. This is not to mean their city or country is not, or has no modern aspects, simply that customs, how things are done, what is socially expected by the people can be very different.
Most of the city, like the country is conservative and heavily religious, leaving most of the social changes to be pushed for by the younger generations, and those that are highly knowledgeable about Western culture.      

Center of Skopje a the banks of the river Vardar.
The statue is part of "Skopje 2014" project,
so are the buildings being refurbished on the other side.
Photo courtesy of
After this period very little changed until about 2009, when the government announced large-scale developments for the most valuable empty spaces in the city center. Most of this under the project "Skopje 2014". 
Center of Skopje (Macedonia Square).
The large statue is of Aleksandar The Great,
part of the "Skopje 2014" project.
From what my friend Matej tells me, in Skopje most of the socializing is done at Cafes, Kafana's (a small eatery that serves great local food, what Americans would call a "joint"), bars, lounges etc. This is similar to how New Yorkers socialize, though in Skopje people are not use to gathering in outdoor areas to hang-out in the same way as those in NYC. They have open-space outdoors, City Park, Gradski Park, Macedonia Square, although the notion of "Public Space" as in NYC is not as prevalent. All of this is still not as clear to me as I like (further info & images will be presented in the 2nd parts).   
Old Bazaar sector?
Photo courtesy of 
My thinking is that in Skopje, & other parts of the country, eating out, meeting for tea/coffee is very affordable for the bulk of the populace (of course in NYC the same could be said, but depends on where your going), also rent in Skopje is much lower then NYC (although with economic advancement prices are slightly increasing). 
Center of Skopje, photo by Meglena Visinska
While Skopje has many new "modern" buildings similar to NYC, they not normally designed to include "Public Space". To my knowledge there are few if any public spaces that offer seating with wi-fi access, solely for that purpose. And the government officials who sanction urban development for the capital, this is not an aspect they consider, at least not yet. 

Another major aspect both cites have in common is that the people do not have the right to use "Public Space" as they wish, even for matters that would benefit themselves, or would be in keeping with civic duties. Both sides still need locale & national consent for this.  
Center of Skopje
Photo by Matej Bogdanovski

Skopje Railway station.
Photo by Matej Bogdanovski.
If you would like to know more go,
(1) Alexander Gavin  from the New York Times article "Treasuring Urban Oases" by Michael Kimmelman

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