Regulating Place: Standards and the Shaping of Urban America

By Eran Ben-Joseph; Terry S. Szold | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

Sidewalk Democracy

Municipalities and the Regulation of Public Space

ANASTASIA LOUKAITOU-SIDERIS, EVELYN BLUMENBERG, AND RENIA EHRENFEUCHT

In August 2000, delegates at the Democratic National Convention felt “really safe, ” at Los Angeles's Staples Center. From the cool quiet interior, they saw more protests on television than from the street. Outside, in the sweltering August heat, thousands of protesters marched along predetermined routes. Although the protesters chanted, “These are our streets, ” the heavy police presence indicated otherwise. It had taken a federal order to guarantee protesters access to the Staples Center. City officials, mindful of recent World Trade Organization (WTO) demonstrations in Seattle, were determined to contain the activities as much as possible, establishing a protest zone complete with concrete blocks and a twelve-foot chain link fence. Despite the city's efforts, downtown business was slow and traffic disrupted. To many visitors and residents, public speaking and protest-a central aspect of public space-had become an impediment to the primary purposes of streets and sidewalks. 1

Jane Jacobs has called sidewalks “the main public place of a city” and “its most vital organs.” 2 Urban sidewalks have long been considered the city's public boardroom. Nevertheless, how sidewalks can be used and by whom-in other words, the “publicness” of sidewalks as well as their “primary purposes”-have been long debated in court by municipal governments, civil rights advocates, and political activists. Municipalities have historically issued ordinances and

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