The secret life of street facades: an exploration of shifting public-private boundaries in post-socialist Ostrava
(University of Toronto)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines how street facades mediate meanings of public and private in the Czech city of Ostrava. By attending to how shop owners and local activists co-produce window displays and store fronts, I explore emerging public discourses on the changing identity of this post-industrial city.
Paper long abstract:
Henri Lefebvre's comment that a revolution must produce new space in order to be truly successful underscores the idea that space was key to achieving the goals of state socialism. An important way in which the space-citizen dynamic unfolded in the socialist city was through a reassembling of public-private boundaries -- boundaries that are again being redrawn in the post-socialist context. This paper explores how street facades -- window displays, store fronts, balconies, doorways -- mediate meanings of public and private in the Czech city of Ostrava. Following James Holston's concept of the facade as a liminal space that at once defines and enables passage between public and private spheres, I examine how facades are co-produced by shop owners, local activists, and graffiti artists to create public discourse on the changing identity of this economically depressed, post-industrial city. I argue that, in their function to reveal and conceal, facades serve to highlight the aspirations of a city, as well as to hide (or protect) what Michael Herzfeld might call culturally intimate practices, namely, practices that are both a source of shared sociality as well as of possible embarrassment -- and, in the case of Ostrava, ones that often have strong continuities with the city's socialist past. Seen through the lens of a facade, public-private boundaries start to appear porous and often self-contradicting, reflecting, perhaps, ambivalent local attitudes towards the city's shifting role from a socialist industrial epicentre to a yet-undefined peripheral town in a neoliberal state.
Urban space under (re)construction: affective and economic geographies under rapid social change