Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Questions about the privatization of infrastructure...

There is an interesting article in today's NYTimes about the future of financing infrastructure. I guess the real question is how to strike a balance between governments with no budget and investors hoping to cash in... Naomi Klein's recent book touches on this very question.

Freedom Square

During a recent visit to Bratislava, I came upon this square, known as Freedom Square, which boasts a beautiful central fountain, known as Družba Fountain (built in 1980). The square itself has a long history, as a location in the city, from housing Archbishops during summer months throughout the 18th century to the Slovak inventor Ján Bahýľ and his curious ride in the first ever helicopter in 1897 to its restructuring as a communist headquarters after the revolution and its current standing as governmental and university quarters. The square reverberates with the architectural traces of its recent Socialist past, with the highly functionalist buildings off-set by the blooming fountain, in the shape of the linden flower, the symbol of Slovak people.

Yet, the removal after 1989 from the square of the enormous statue of Klement Gottwald (pictured here with Stalin), the first president of Czechoslovakia (1948), finds curious echo in Gottwald's own dedication to the Stalinist purges following the war. Dedicating himself not only to collective farming and nationalized industry, Gottwald forcibly removed non-communists and communists alike who opposed his government, jailing many while also erasing them from official photographs, records and archives. Such erasures seem to find a form of poetic justice in Gottwald's own removal from Freedom Square, itself now renamed from its former Gottwaldovo. Yet such legacies of erasures and counter-erasures make me wish for a more accepting form of modifying public space - rather than discovering the missing statue through other forms of abstracted research, my walk through Freedom Square could have been more directly effected and rewarding by encountering the history of the square through its own assembly and maintenance of historical parts, from the Archbishops to the helicopter ride to Gottwald himself. Following the ideas of Richard Sennett, city space might better serve the public by creating opportunities for confronting difference, diversity, and the tensions at the heart of political life. Freedom Square could truly earn its name by allowing Gottwald his space, even while, and especially, reminding someone like myself of the embedded and stratified anguishes and delights which come to define history and our place in it.