Granary Square, which opened last week, is ‘one of the biggest public spaces in Europe’, according to the Guardian. It is ‘a focal point for the regeneration of King’s Cross, a neglected part of London’, and is ‘managed in a private estate of 10 plazas and parkland near the rail hub. “Welcome to King’s Cross,” a signpost reads. “Please enjoy this private estate considerately.”’
Large parts of Britain’s cities have been redeveloped as privately-owned estates over the past decade, ‘extending corporate control over some of the country’s busiest squares and thoroughfares,’ the article continues. ‘These developments are no longer simply enclosed malls like Westfield in White City or business districts like Broadgate in the City of London – they are spaces open to the sky which appear to be entirely public to casual passers-by.’
Private owners can, of course, close off the parts of the city that they own, refusing entry to the public. This is what happened when the Occupy movement tried to occupy Paternoster Square, ‘location of the London Stock Exchange and owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Company.’ The injunction stated: “The protesters have no right to conduct a demonstration or protest on the Square, which is entirely private property.”
Is there anything wrong, though, from a Buddhist viewpoint, with this practice? A Buddhist friend recently told me that she used to believe, with the anarchists, that ‘all property is theft‘. But is this – and has it ever been – a Buddhist view? Granted the Buddha, and his bhikkhu and bhikkhuni followers owned no property and had very few possessions. But the Buddha also had wealthy, landowner, disciples, some of high spiritual attainment, who were an important part of the spiritual community. Why should it be any different for us practising today?
I want to explore this dynamic between public and private space in a series of articles over the next few days and weeks. I hope you will join me by sharing the articles and by freely commenting.