Harvard Design Magazine #49

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Harvard Design Magazine 49: Publics questions how public spaces—the physical, the cultural, and the theoretical—operate in a fragmented social and political environment, both in the US and abroad.

Guest editors Anita Berrizbeitia and Diane E. Davis convene leading public intellectuals, scholars, and practitioners in architecture, urban planning, landscape design, law, and the social sciences and humanities to investigate design theories and outcomes percolating at the heart of national and global cultural discourse. They ponder the fate of “the public” in a world where xenophobic thinking and challenges to communal responsibility are, as the editors observe, becoming ever more dominant, and in which individualism poses a corrosive challenge to collectivity and unity.

This issue integrates theoretical and thematic debates, including over who holds the power to define what is “public,” what roles class, ethnicity, and other identity matrices play in the concept of “the public,” and how the core idea of “a public” may survive—or atrophy—given looming environmental crises and deepening political and economic divisions. Publics enriches this dialogue with spatial and material looks at how the public is constructed and shaped through design projects and cultural production.

The magazine’s introductory essays include contributions from Walter Hood, Sara Zewde, and architectural collaborative Assemble. The heart of Publics applies the immersive editorial structure and spatial rhythm established by its predecessor. In “Sites,” Toni L. Griffin muses on “South Side Land Narratives: The Lost Histories and Hidden Joys of Black Chicago.” “Spaces” offers observations from Frida Escobedo, Ali Madanipour, and others, analyzing what constitutes public space. “Scales” investigates ways in which the concept and shapes of “the public” interact with shared cultural concerns, including environmental justice, public health, and Indigenous land rights. And “Subjects” interrogates the very definition of “public”—especially the people for whom designers shape and create space.

Publics concludes with a call-and-response segment, in which contributors including Christopher Hawthorne, Lizabeth Cohen, and others respond to a provocative prompt: “What is the most important public space worth preserving now?” Answers range from city sidewalks to Boston’s Franklin Park, to the Mississippi River Gathering Grounds, to your own backyard.