Subversion of the Physical Community

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One of the prerequisites for democracy is that we live in the same society. This prerequisite is so obvious that there is rarely anyone who pays any attention to it, which is possibly why there is also no-one who realises that this prerequisite is disappearing in many countries.

The public sphere

Living in the same society means that all of us have access to all areas of the country; to all areas of the public sphere. There is private ownership of gardens, certain parks and land of various kinds which we can't enter unless we have business there or permission, but all roads, squares and open spaces are otherwise available to everyone. They belong to the public sphere, in which all citizens have the right to go where they please, to express themselves, to stick up posters at designated locations and to apply for use for political meetings and demonstrations.

Gated communities

Even in democracies like the U.S. and Brazil, there have for a long time been so-called gated communities. These are complete residential areas that are fenced in and protected, often by armed guards. Not just anyone can walk in here. Within the gated communities, the rules and regulations applied are those applied by the developer of the area. In principle, this is no different than the house rules in rented accommodation; the difference is that it concerns an entire residential neighbourhood or something that resembles a small town and there is not always democratically based influence for those who live there.

"So what?" you may ask. People have chosen to live there. That's true, but the point of moving into these areas is precisely to avoid the rest of society. It's expensive to live there, but in return the residents avoid crime, homelessness, disorder, filth and everything that belongs to a society which has to accommodate everyone. In real terms, gated communities mean that those with the greatest resources pay to get away from participating in the rest of society and thereby contribute to the undermining of democracy. Gated communities exclude themselves from the public sphere, and it is no longer possible, for example, to stick up posters or demonstrate in these areas, neither for outsiders nor for those who live there. Furthermore, it is offensive in a state based on the rule of law that not everyone is considered worthy to enter certain areas.

The phenomenon of gated communities is not yet widespread in Europe, but they are on their way.

Shopping Centres

Another place where a similar trend is exerting itself is large shopping centres. The traditional shopping areas in towns and cities are just one part of the public sphere where we can express our opinions. However, large shopping centres have taken over the town's role with regard to shopping, entertainment and a meeting place, but the centres don't represent a public meeting place. We do not have a citizen's right to hold a demonstration or stick posters up in these large centres. They are private property and, as we enter, we leave the public sphere.

As long as there are still active towns and cities with public spaces, it doesn't matter that we have centres with shops and entertainment, but when one day most of our urban activities are moved to this kind of private space, we will have undermined the public sphere and one of the prerequisites of democracy, unless the community democratically decrees that private space over a certain size per definition is public space.

Next chapter: Differing Realities