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Publics and Places: An Architecture of Democracy

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Gregory Fahy
University of Maine at Augusta
United States

Pragmatists often discuss participatory democracy as a moral ideal and a way of life. This paper argues that there is a strong connection between the design of built environments in America and the quality of democratic practice that occurs within these environments. It begins by discussing the self-identification of publics as crucial for democratic practice, and argues that there is an inherently spatial component to public self-identification. In particular, suburban built environments solicit strong tendencies to withdraw into private spaces and avoid social engagement in response to social conflict. This limits the potential for any publics to self-identify and to define their interests. The paper concludes by discussing two characteristics of built environments that solicit democratic practice: axial rings that enable strangers to traverse neighborhoods and convex spaces around bunched building entrances that encourage public transactions.


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