This paper tries through its interdisciplinary approach to address public domain issues both from an urban and a legal perspective.

The distinction between “genuinely public” and publicly accessible private spaces is not as conclusive as one might think: in terms of everyday use, many public squares or sidewalks experience lower footage and demographic variety than malls or corporate plazas. In terms of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, the appraisal is even more ambiguous. While the public realm might indeed better serve as a scene for political discourse and refuge against arbitrary discrimination, it is not exempt of frequent limitations of these rights. As a matter of fact, interdictions can refer to public places, as much as laws against discrimination at least partly include the private domain. Consumption has invaded both.

So what is the essential difference?

The authors scrutinize the question of freedom and public space not only through an analysis of user rights in public versus private spaces, but also through the comparison of the guiding principles for adaptation according to changing political climates and user behaviours. The paper relies on various international examples, but scrutinizes the legal situation in more depth for Germany and the USA, two first-world countries with similar cultural background, but allegedly differing spatial habits. The work is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between an urbanist who teaches at the University of Miami and a practicing lawyer from Berlin.

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