Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Feudal Illusion of Public Space

September 20th, 2010 · 5 Comments

I first noticed it one of our first walking tours. We were walking around Bloomsbury when we approached Bedford Square. It was a welcome patch of green and seemed reassuring and welcoming even from our first day in London, but on this day we actually tried to enter the small park. “Well it looks as if the Duke has decided to close the park today,” said Professor Qualls, his voice harboring a tone of disappointment. It was this moment that an idea dawned on me, public spaces in London aren’t truly “public,” they are mercifully given to the people by the aristocracy to brighten up their gloomy lives. For this reason, if the Duke of Bedford would like to have a personal picnic, or the Queen wants a day by the pond, they can close down any park they’d like for their own personal enjoyment.

This fact makes me a little perturbed. What is public space? That is one of the appealing things of Central Park in NYC, it is run by the publicly elected parks department officials. In that way the people decide who runs their parks. This is not the case in London.

The ownership of the “public” space is just another example of the feudal concepts of land ownership that still exist in England today. Just like the museums however, it seems to be the price one pays for perfectly manicured sports fields and classical European gardens that are open to the public. I am of course, talking about one of my favorite parks, Regent’s Park which I was able to return to a few times in pursuit of different things.

When it comes to parks in London however, the crown jewel (pun intended) is of course Hyde Park. It would take days of exploring to uncover all of the hidden landmarks and monuments.

So despite what you might think about the illusion of public space in a Monarchical space, these parks a a great place for a stroll on a sunny British day.

(personal photo)

Tags: 2010 MatthewG