Public space is a fundamental ingredient in our cities because it is a platform where people can voice their ideas and make a change. Theoretically, public space belongs to the public. Our beaches, parks, and pedestrian streets are the common territories where the public can connect. Maryam shares her story about how having a right to public space in a non-democratic situation, means having a right to the city.
“I think for me one of the important ones is that social side of these kinds of spaces, and these spaces act as a witness for history or for lots of things that happened. I can give you an example. In Tehran, there is a square, the Azadi Square. Azadi means freedom.”
“That square witnessed a contemporary history of Iran, witnessed the Islamic Revolution, all the war, and recent movements for freedom. People didn’t have power to do anything for protests so they just suddenly moved to that square and it was a kind of silent protest. They were all silent, and they all gathered in that place.”
“When people don’t have any rights or any power to stand and fight for something, I think public spaces are the only place they can go and at least be silent even, show their protest.”
Even this simple action shows how powerful people are as a collective. Ordinary citizens can actually re-imagine cities, however, in order to make a difference we firstly need to come together as equal members of the community.
“I think one of the reasons that public spaces are not really famous in Perth perhaps, is that still there is a line and boundary between different people in public space. But in other countries, for example Germany or Turkey, there are a lot of people from different countries and no one really cares who you are, and you are all mixed in public places, and everyone has a sense of belonging and they can claim, ‘this is my space!’, because they have that sense and feeling. But in Perth, you don’t have because there is a boundary.”
“I remember the place that I grew up, my parent’s apartment. When we moved there, it was still like a construction site in front of our block, and no one knew what would happen to that. At some stage, we were told that should be a park there, and that area should be a public open space. And then suddenly one day we saw a big moving truck full of steel parking there. The whole community was shocked. We asked them, what do you want to do? They said we want to make a steel shed, big shed like a storage for the city, for that council.”
“All the city was shocked…and the whole people decided to protest and go to council, and they changed it! Even in a non-democratic situation. The structure they changed it. But most of the time we don’t think that we have this power, and we don’t say anything, but we should say, and we should do! Even small things. YES! We have this right!”
“Most of the time people don’t know, know that they’re strong, and the power that they have, their strengths and the power that they have. King Shah, he didn’t know that how these movements are important. How it could be influential. And it was really influential.”
By coming together, we can reinvent our local communities and be proud of the city we live in. As citizens, we have a right to the city, and we need to embrace our unique multicultural heritage and transform our ideas and beliefs into action. If our government bodies don’t support us, then we need to start from a bottom-up approach and make our cities an open and safe place for everyone.
Lunchtimes with Architects is a series of blog posts that aims to enlighten readers about public spaces from around the world. Each blog post will feature a member of the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) and will focus on their unique story and showcase how powerful urban public places can really be. This week features Maryam Berenji who is a registered Landscape Architect and has successfully completed a Master of Urban Design at AUDRC. She is a Landscape Architect and Construction Project Officer at the City of Wanneroo and teaches design in the Master of Urban Design Programme (UWA). Having grown up in Tehran, Maryam provides a unique insight into the political power of public spaces in Iran.
Berenji, M., interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, Gorden Street Garage, Perth.
All photographs were taken by Maryam Berenji and used with permission