Points on the Square (Part III)

TheGates.jpg

(Third in a series of three)

To conclude our discussions (Part I & Part II) from before on what features would make a successful square on East Campus, we have these final points to add:

  • Make the square “performance-enabled”. Small orchestras have performed for free in Washington’s public spaces. The square could encourage this by pre-installing a sound system for the park. The sound system should be used only for these occasional performances, not to “enhance the ambiance” with contrived white noise; urban spaces provide their own endless soundtrack.
  • Provide a space for outdoor, interactive art. College Park benefits from a young, energetic population. The square could serve as a platform for the occasional outdoor art exhibit, thus bringing both variety and intrigue to the city. For three weeks in February 2005, New York artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude displayed “The Gates” (above) in Central Park to much acclaim, fanfare, and mystery.
  • Maintain the square with a Business Improvement District. Many cities employ these quasi-governmental organizations to maintain sidewalks, sweep streets, and even plant flowers. The ideal square is self-sustaining, with commercial lessees paying a fee to support the maintenance not only of the square but of the sidewalks as well.
  • Mandate public ownership. Public spaces, by definition, are open the public and are not privately owned. Whereas a private mall has the right to limit access, ban political expression, and constrain artistic exercises, public spaces are subject to the laws of free expression that democracies enjoy. It is absolutely paramount that the University reserve all future East Campus public spaces under its own jurisdiction. The construction of the square should be the responsibility of the selected developer, but constructing the square should not entitle any private entity to its ownership.

2 thoughts on “Points on the Square (Part III)”

  1. Whereas a private mall has the right to limit access, ban political expression, and constrain artistic exercises, public spaces are subject to the laws of free expression that democracies enjoy. It is absolutely paramount that the University reserve all future East Campus public spaces under its own jurisdiction.

    Huh? The university is no friend of access to or political expression on campus and in fact, went to court to defend its first amendment zone in front of the Nyumburu Amphitheater.

    The ACLU forced the university to revise its free speech policy with respect to students (provided assembly is limited to ten or fewer members of the university community!) but won its case in that:

    “the campus is not akin to a public street, park of theater, but instead is an institute of higher learning that is devoted to its mission of public education that has not traditionally been open to the public at large.”

    See ACLU vs Mote.

    Fourth Circuit Appeals Ct decision (pdf)

  2. Yes, I have been surprised at college by the fact that the freedom of speech is not universally revered. However, the university would certainly be the better guarantor of speech rights as it is a public institution that has expressly stated in its development RFP the desire to make the East Campus development available to people and private businesses not affiliated with the university. The court opinion you cite considered the campus a “limited public forum,” unlike streets, sidewalks, and parks. However, one may argue that the East Campus development’s purpose, as even stated in the RFP, contrasts significantly with the rest of campus, which, as the court opinion you cite held, “is devoted to its mission of public education.” The University stated that the residences for East Campus are “not intended to be a predominantly student housing community.” The University’s RFP also demands “high quality public spaces” and it also requires that the development proposals “combine elements often associated with the best college towns with uses that will draw visitors and patrons, not only from the College Park Campus, but from the region and surrounding communities as well.” (my emphasis)

    Mind you, this is just my own armchair legal speculation. I’m not sure if the Fourth Circuit or even the Supreme Court has ruled on the public nature of public university land developed in such a special way. Either way, I think the university, though imperfect, is the better guarantor of speech rights, since private entities tend to want to limit controversy, which typically hurts business.

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