Creating Democratic Citizens and the Right to Public Space

Saille Caia Murray, Fordham University


In this thesis I will consider how public space serves as both political and spiritual infrastructure. I take the position that public space is critical for U.S. citizens to be able to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and to the free practice of religion. This understanding of public space as critical for healthy democracies comes about in part by considering Frederick Law Olmsted's philosophies on the topic. Using the theories by Don Mitchell and Michelle Alexander I argue that excluding people from public space serves as a denial of citizenship. To reach this conclusion, I explore the history of how lynching has evolved to become police violence, and how both serve as policies of exclusion from public space for Black people and other communities of color. To better understand how public space serves as democratic infrastructure I chose two small New York City parks Jackie Robinson Park and Dag Hammarskjold Plaza as case studies. Using ethnographic and archival research methods I document how people use public space with an eye towards understanding democratic participation and placemaking. Some consideration is given to commodification of public space and how that can be at odds with democratic uses. Finally, I look to how planners and policy makers can make space more democratic by applying techniques used by urban theorist Setha Low and park designer Kenneths Balfelt's strategies for inclusion.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|American history|Political science

Recommended Citation

Murray, Saille Caia, "Creating Democratic Citizens and the Right to Public Space" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13882026.