I went to Sculpture by the Sea on the weekend, and was pondering, as I walked past the Bondi Pavilion that some space that was once “public” (concrete in front of the Bondi Pavilion) was now “private” at least by some definitions – it’s a cafe.
My local area has continuing controversy any time some windblown plaza is created as part of a development. It’s “public space” therefore sacred, and letting someone lease it out and create a cafe is a bad thing, at least according to some of the powers-that-be, because it is alienating public space.
I don’t agree. Public space is important – Bondi Beach is a classic example! but cafes are public space to some extent. In my street, there are three spaces about the size of a small terrace house. One has an outdoor cafe in it, onea small (public) garden, and one a children’s playground. Right now, the cafe’s not going so well . But even now, and when the evenings are getting longer, there are probably more people using the cafe space than even the playground space. The garden occasionally has one person sitting eating lunch.
Of course, the cafe is also the only area that you have to pay to enter. But even with all the second-hand handwringing about the poor people who won’t be able to access these now private spaces, a windswept plaza in front of an office building is unlikely to be the preferred space of someone who can’t afford the price of a cup of coffee in return for a seat. A cafe means a much more effective use of space than free seating. People will willingly sit much closer to each other in a cafe than they would in any free space. And people will sit in a space that isn’t that intrinsically attractive, if someone makes the effort to make it attractive (which they are more likely to do if they can make a quid).
Does that mean that every available space should be made into a cafe? Of course not. I really like the mix I have in my street, of a cafe, a garden and a playground. But a cafe is not, of itself, an alienation of public space. There needs to be a better use of the space that will improve the living environment of the inhabitants before it is automatically rejected.