Braehead – why it’s not about the abuse of anti-terrorism legislation

I wrote about this yesterday.  A father was stopped by security guards in a shopping-mall for taking a photo of his young daughter – the reason and justification being our current anti-terrorism legislation which supposedly gives the mall a right to prevent the public taking such photos within the confines of the centre.  As I pointed out a couple of years ago:

A good article from the Guardian yesterday on the subject of private spaces with public use.  I touched on this subject some years ago now but now can’t find the article in question.  So I’d just like to add my support for a campaign to raise public awareness of the issue.  There is plenty of evidence of how the architecture of private spaces with public use is designed more and more to keep issues like the homeless out of sight and mind.  You only have to see how washroom facilities in fast food restaurants are designed to allow one only to wash one’s hands to realise that there is intentionality in the beast.  Or how a lack of benches in shopping malls has the twofold objective of keeping all that consumer traffic moving between points of sale almost till it drops – ensuring that when it does finally give in and sit down, it has no alternative but to pay for the honour of doing so via the corresponding coffee and muffin.

Whilst, in the meantime, those curiously diagonal sides to connecting corridors make it virtually impossible for the bereft of housing to usefully slump up against all those privately owned walls.

A campaign of education to regain municipal spaces – and more importantly, their related communal rights – within our major conurbations would therefore be most welcome.

The real terrorism here (notwithstanding Norman’s call yesterday for greater linguistic precision and focus in our debate) is the one I mention above – and the truly sad thought that comes to mind is how the word “terrorism” makes us all jump in anger where the slow, gradual, encroaching possession of our once gloriously municipal and democratically-owned high street, by behemoths of private business who clearly know better, is something we choose to blithely ignore.

Until something like this happens.

By which time it’s too late.

Liverpool One is another notable example.  I posted on this subject last year.  Great development, short-term improvement for the city itself – but how many unseen downsides such as the ones I detail above do we have to suffer before we realise it’s not all silver lining?  As I quote in the post in question:

Here is a criticism of Liverpool One you can also currently find on Wikipedia:

The Open Spaces Society has criticised the removal of public rights of way in the development area and fears that universal access to Liverpool’s central streets may be denied to citizens in future.

More on the Open Spaces Society here and here.

Meanwhile, from 2008, here’s an interesting story on the instinct to privatise security arrangements that such private spaces of public use tend to generate:

BUSINESS leaders in Liverpool last night called for the introduction of a “Zero Tolerance” private security force across the city centre.

Lobby group Downtown Liverpool in Business believes a privately-funded security outfit is needed to match the security presence in Grosvenor’s Liverpool One development, which opens at the end of next month.

These are important issues – for they go to the very heart of our democracy.  Far more than the abuse of anti-terrorism legislation, the right of democratic citizens to walk the high streets of our cities – without fear of random law being imposed without due democratic process – is the real issue here.  This is a question of human rights, of course – but it goes much deeper than just anti-terrorism legislation.  The privatisation of our municipal spaces has taken place right under our very noses – even, I might argue, with our tacit consent.  And now the owners of these spaces – who are only really responsible to their shareholders – choose to be what recent municipalities never were: lords and masters of private money-making fiefdoms.

We don’t need more owners.  We don’t want more lords and masters.  In the 21st century, what we really need are custodians.  And that, far more than our anti-terrorism legislation, is what we need to change.

Further reading: this post, providing further background to the PR and communications disaster which Braehead has become, has just come my way via Twitter.  Well worth a read.


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