Public Space and the Ideology of Place in American Culture

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We typically take public space for granted, as if it has continuously been there, yet public space has always been the expression of the will of some agency (person or institution) who names the space, gives it purpose, and monitors its existence. And often its use has been contested. These new essays, written for this volume, approach public space through several key questions: Who has the right to define public space? How do such places generate and sustain symbolic meaning? Is public space unchanging, or is it subject to our subjective perception? Do we, given the public nature of public space, have the right to subvert it? These eighteen essays, including several case studies, offer convincing evidence of a spatial turn in American studies. They argue for a re-visioning of American culture as a history of place-making and the instantiation of meaning in structures, boundaries, and spatial configurations. Chronologically the subjects range from Pierre L’Enfant’s initial majestic conceptualization of Washington, D.C. to the post-modern realization that public space in the U.S. is increasingly a matter of waste. Topics range from parks to cities to small towns, from open-air museums to airports, encompassing the commercial marketing of place as well as the subversion and re-possession of public space by the disenfranchised. Ultimately, public space is variously imagined as the site of social and political contestation and of aesthetic change.

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Miles ORVELL & Jeffrey L. MEIKLE: Introduction
Part One: Public Space as Symbol
Anna MINTA: Planning a National Pantheon: Monuments in Washington, D.C., and the Creation of Symbolic Space
John F. SEARS: ‘How the Devil It Got There’: The Politics of Form and Function in the Smithsonian ‘Castle’
Torben Huus LARSEN: The Museum of Appalachia and the Invention of an Idyllic Past
Miles ORVELL: Constructing Main Street: Utopia and the Imagined Past
Jeffrey L. MEIKLE: Pasteboard Views: Idealizing Public Space in American Postcards, 1931–1953
Part Two: Contesting Public Space
Nadine KLOPFER: ‘Terra Incognita’ in the Heart of the City? Montreal and Mount Royal around 1900
Peter B. HALES: Grid, Regulation, Desire Line: Contests Over Civic Space in Chicago
Laura LAWSON: The Precarious Nature of Semi-Public Space: Community Garden Appeal, Complacency, and Implications for Sustaining User-Initiated Places
Kay F. EDGE: Buy, Sell, Roam: The Airport Calculus of Retail
Bryant SIMON: Consuming Third Place: Starbucks and the Illusion of Public Space
Rickie SANDERS: The Public Space of Urban Communities
Part Three: The Mutability of Public Space
Eric J. SANDEEN: Walking the High Line
Kerstin SCHMIDT: The Search for a Democratic Architecture: A New Sense of Space and the Reconfiguration of American Architecture
Timothy DAVIS: Designed Space vs. Social Space: Intention and Appropriation in an American Urban Park
David E. NYE: Public Space Transformed: New York’s Blackouts
Sarah LURIA: Air and Space
Andrew S. GROSS: Imagining the Interstate: Henry Miller, Post-Tourism, and the Disappearance of American Place
Klaus BENESCH: Writing Grounds: Ecocriticism, Dumping Sites, and the Place of Literature in a Posthuman Age