Friday, March 25, 2011

Seat's Taken: When Public Space becomes Private Space

One evening, I went with a group to Times Square to watch a Broadway show. We only had an hour before the start of the show, so we decided to buy food and then find somewhere to sit down and eat. Because it was St. Patrick's Day, Times Square was filled to the brim with people-We couldn't find a place to sit, so we found a nice piece of sidewalk and had a concrete picnic. I was surprised when an employee of the building we were sitting next to came out and told us that it was a residential building and reminded us to leave and pick up our trash when we were done eating. This reminded me of discussions of public and private space in some of my college courses. In an effort to "clean up" urban environments gated communities and parks restrict who can come in, homeless people are cleared from the streets where tourists and business people pass, and benches are increasingly made with dividers so that one can only sit upright to prevent people from sleeping on them. Public areas are now sights of restriction allowing some and denying others access. This was very apparent in Manhattan. I saw very few homeless people on the streets, yet there were many eating at the soup kitchens we served at. These clean up efforts are just moving homeless people to the periphery, they do not actually address the structural problems in society that lead to homelessness. Making signs of poverty "disappear" is a very disingenuous effort to address issues of poverty. In thinking about the ministry of Jesus, he took a much different approach. Jesus spent time with and cared for those who were marginalized in society and spoke out against getting caught up in obtaining earthly possessions. I think this, especially in the US with the "American dream" of success being equated to what you can buy, is a message that we need to hear more often and take seriously. When we focus on what we "need" to enjoy life, we are blinded from the reality of this capitalist world we live in where there are many who struggle every day to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their famililies.

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