Places with public value are those which allow people to represent themselves and, at the same time, recognise others.
Nadia Urbinati is Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory at Columbia University, New York, and one of the world most incisive political theorists. We interviewed her for Shared Spaces on the occasion of the seminar “The European Project and the Challenge of Disaffection”, which was jointly organised by the CCCB and the British Academy in July 2018.
Nadia Urbinati, an Italian who has been living and working in the United States for some years recognises that Princeton and New York lack public space in the European sense, which is to say as a place to meet rather than one for consumption (which is the main activity in US public spaces). Places with public value, she says, are those which allow people to represent themselves and at, at the same time, recognise others. In brief, quality public space in city centres should be used not only for economic exchanges or for large-scale political events but also for everyday exchanges of glances and opinions with one’s fellow citizens.
As for her favourite public space, Nadia Urbinati says she has two, both in Bologna, the city of her birth. Piazza Maggiore is the big space for ritual events and other kinds of activities throughout the year as well as being a usual meeting place for citizens. Apart from being the heart of the city, it is also a gauge of emotions and public opinion. By contrast, Piazza Santo Stefano, triangular in shape and delimited by two arcades and a church, is small and welcoming. Nadia Urbinati says it gives her a special feeling every time she visits it.