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THE DIFFERENT PUBLIC the meaning and use of the (semi-)public space in the ‘handelstraat’, Antwerpen Bram Van Hulle, Urban Studies

introduction// The ‘statiekwartier”, a mulmticultural neighbourhood, is one of the main focusses of Antwerp city’s gentrification policy1. A mixture of nationalities that provide a diversity of interpretations of the public space2. Within this context of diversity there is a presence of designed and cultural (semi-)public spaces. However the purpose of the space can completely differ from the use, caused by the cultural diversity of interpretations. In this paper I will research how the cultural believes of public space differ in the use of it within this multicultural context. In other words, how the different interpretations of public space influence each other. Further the global character of the neighbourhood allows me to place this research within the international connections that exists certainly because transport networks and, more recently in particular, communication and information networks, are radically redefining what it means to be ‘someplace’3. Defining the public space as meeting space this paper will go deeper in the use and interpretation of the (semi-)public and how this use and interpretation is related or differs from the cultural background. This by analysing the internet shop, a semi-public space that is remarkably present in the scenery of the street, that will make this research. the ‘statiekwartier’// When in 1830 Belgium was declared independent Antwerp city was still located on the edge between the ‘de Schelde’ river and the old ‘Spanish’ fortifications. The area that is currently the ‘statiekwartier’ defined the edge between city and agricultural land. With the arrival of the first train the area was given a new life, besides the growing urbanization that was taking place some side effects of this modernisation appeared (e.g. prostitution). This text will focus on a particular part of the ‘statiekwartier’, the ‘handelstraat’ (elongated with the ‘korte zavelstraat’). The ‘handelstraat’ (and ‘korte zavelstraat’) is marked by two designed public squares. The squares provide a setting for some architectural objects on it or the connection with the underground metro infrastructures. The street itself mainly functions as a shopping street. Moreover it


functions as a multicultural realm in the city of Antwerp. The Muslim (Arab) community has a subdued presence in the built fabric of this street because characterizing symbols4 of their culture are missing. However walking through this street the framework of the ‘typical’ Belgian urban neighbourhood is still noticeable, while the scene itself has changed. In the newspaper ‘de Standaard’ the street is described as a Moroccan nostalgia. It is a string of grocery shops, butchers, fish stores and so called ‘bazaars’ that evoke an impression of the ‘typical’ Kasbah. A unique scenery for this city5. The establishment of the Moroccan, Turkish, etc. immigrants provide a new way of perception. In other words, the adaptations of the Belgian setting allow the immigrants to claim a reference to their home country in the urban configuration of Antwerp. This insertion of the ‘alien’-elements cause, as argued by Hilde Heynen and André Loeckx, a contradictory situation that inevitably effectuates a transformation of the form and meaning of both the displaced element and the new context6. This implementation of the ‘alien’-object creates a new urban setting within the existing, more or less stable, urban fabric of the neighbourhood. A realm where different ‘alien’ elements come together and form a new (mixed) logic. Because of the increasing ‘foreigners’, currently a flock of the East-European countries can be noticed, and the complex multicultural structure that exists in the neighbourhood, a lot of tension is noticeable. Concluding from my interview with inhabitants, shopkeepers and passers a rivalry exists between the Islamic and East-European population, as for example an Islamic shopkeeper advises me to avoid crossing point X7, a place where East-European immigrants provoke passers, certainly if they are female. Also Mr. X from Iraq gives the same impression when he forbids his children to go to crossing point X. Within this complex and sometimes dangerous context a diversity of public spaces exists. A diversity that is created by the multicultural interpretational background on the one hand, the (ab)use of the public space on the other hand. public space// The combination of the gentrification policy with the multicultural background of the ‘statiekwartier’ evokes the question of public space and its interpretation. Public space is a space of social processes, a space where social interactions and activities are played out. In the same way, as Bruno De Meulder and Hilde Heynen write in “The role of space in processes of exclusion and normalisation.”, as the staging is to a certain extent decisive in a theatre production, because it makes certain actions and interactions possible or impossible without this influence being decisive for the content of the play, this also applies to the spatial structure of neighbourhoods and towns8. Wim Cuyvers defines it


in “Brakin” as a space where everybody can come at any time, to do whatever he or she would like to do, a space of the Needy9. However no space is always 100 per cent public, meaning that no space is always accessible at any time and certainly that people are not always allowed to do whatever they want in that space. That is why Wim Cuyvers redefined public space10 as the opposite of private space. But as Stephan Carr mentions that, in all communal life, there is a balance between private and public space in which different cultures place different emphases on the public space11, we also have to question the relation between the cultural background and the interpretation of the public space. //the interpretation// Interview-time The research on the public space is based on empirical observations and interviews with the inhabitants or passers. These interviews mainly focus on the relation between cultural background and interpretation of the pubic space in Antwerp city. That is why the following questions were asked.: 1.: What is your nationality? (age) 2.: What is public space in your cultural background? 3.: What is public space in Antwerp city? 4.: How do you use the public space? 5.: Why do you do it that way? Further in this text the interviews with the shopkeerpers is mentioned, them was asked different questions concerning their shop and its position in society as (semi-) public space. This on an national and international level. In general the interview does not relate th personal information to a person, in other words the interview does not mention any names of persons or shops. This because they are, in a certain way, irrelevant for the research.

In the history of the (western) city, public space was often designed as a space of governmental representation. With the decorum of that power-representation the social interaction took place. Recent a wider notion of this space has entered the reflections on this subject. As Stephen Carr defines it as the stage upon which the drama of communal life unfolds. The street, square, and parks of a city form the ebb and flow of human exchange12. Public space, is commonly shared and created for open usage throughout the community. It is a dynamic place that provides the nodes of communication and the place for relaxation. In its definitive form it can be seen as a place where everybody can come at any time. The influence of globalisation, suburbanization and the enlargement of multicultural diversity cause the drastic change in the interpretation of public space. Despite the growth of virtual networks the city still functions as a creator for new relations between people, companies, ideas, etc. Notwithstanding the kind of places and networks in which these relations go on have changed. We can no longer speak of only one, more or less neutral, public space where everybody can meet. The current public space is divided in numerous locations and networks in which specific groups find each other physical or virtual. In this new public space one can decide if he allows a social interaction or not. A beautiful example of this ‘power’ is the driver on the highway, locked in his private (car)space he can decide when he starts an interaction with other people, cars, etc. Simultaneously the possibilities of meeting the stranger, in the therefore allocated space, increased, for instance on the internet or the numerous rock-festivals. By the increasing scale of the city the action of the public space is no longer limited on meeting. Shopping malls, big companies keep magnifying and enforce their activities of visiting, buying, etc. on the public space. In addition the phenomenon of suburbanization has created a new way of experiencing public life13. They have introduced a new word in the research on public space, the semi-public


interviewing people at the square of NOA centre.

person 01// 1.: Polish (41yo) 2.: In my country public space, being the space where people meet, is mainly a street or square. 3.: For me public space in Antwerp is the same as in Poland. 4.: Most of the time I use this space to sit on a bench with some friends. We have time enough as I do not have a job here. 5.: It is cheaper then going to a café, we just buy our drinks in a grocery shop and drink them on the square. person 02// 1.: Romanian (26yo) 2.: In my country public space is the same as in Belgium. Nice squares with benches, sometimes fountains. 3.: In this neighbourhood I prefer a café or the park as public space, the squares in this street can be dangerous, because of the drug addicts. I only use it to fo to the subway station. 4.: (see 3.:) 5.: (see 3.:)

space. Michiel Dehaene refers in this context to Sorkin who lamented the ‘end of public space’, while others assert the presence of new forms of public space located in private spaces for collective use (shopping malls or sport centres) or in alternative spaces such as wastelands or parking lots14. This forms the new paradox of public space, considered the definition of Wim Cuyvers. Within this new paradox a network of places and non-places have been created (cfr. the internet as space that captures the notion of private and public at the same time). The semi-public space is a space where one can decide if it functions as private, public or in-between. The complexity of this concept is enhanced by the globalisation. As mentioned before globalisation causes the influence of multicultural perspectives on the public space. The presence of this new ‘usergroup’ causes in its turn the fragmentation of this space. The city is a place that is defined by its urban fabric, a construction of private, semi-public and public spaces. In other words, the urban reality of today, specific the notion of public space, has become a cluster of multicultural interpretations, forming heterogeneity in use. The diverse interpretation causes the conflict between planned and non-planned public space. The main subject in this text. //the other// Although the idea of public space is basically Western15 the basic features have moved into contexts other than the West. However the way in which they are implemented in this new context are different from the original one. The public in a non-Western context is neither identical with the Western counterpart nor totally different from it, but manifests asymmetrical differences as it is continuously altered by a field of cultural meanings and social practices16. Recent studies of transnational religious phenomena have emphasised the importance of distinguishing between transnational processes of migration and movement, on the one hand, and diasporic forms of consciousness, identity and cultural creation, on the other17. It is within this notion that an understanding of the non-Western interpretation of public space is necessary to comprehend the activities in the ‘handelstraat’. The public space as a gendered space in the city is a general image in the non-Western context. In Muslim societies women and men are expected to behave in line with social, cultural or religious codes. These are created to distinguish between what is considered to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. The importance of this gender issue is embodied in the social and cultural society and is affected by education and economics. Although the Quran beholds both sexes to be equal, this religious equality is not reflected in the Muslim law. As Helen Jarvis mentions, most public spaces (in de non-Western context) are to a


person 03// 1.: Polish (32yo) 2.: I think it is the same as here, squares, trees, fountaines, etc. 3.: (see 2.:) 4.: I do not use the public space a lot because I have to work hard, and I don’t have the time. If you want to more know about how we use it you should ask my wife, she most of the time comes for a walk with dog here (square nearby NOA centre). 5.: If I have the time, like today, then I come here with my dog. We sit on this bench and look at the passers. person 04// 1.: Pakistani (24yo) 2.: In Pakistan a public space is a space where I cannot enter alone. 3.: Here in Belgium and Antwerp I can go on the street by myself. I can even babble with girlfriends on this square. However after 7 pm it is to dangerous for us to hang around. 4.: Even if I can use the public space, I do not do it. It is to dangerous for using, the only reason that I am here is the fact that the subway station is located on this square. 5.: (see 4.:) person 05// 1.: no papers (25yo) 2.: -3.: The public spaces in this neighbourhood are the perfect place to buy or sell drugs. Not during the day, but when it is dark, this place becomes our territory. 4.: I use these spaces to pass by during the day, to buy (sell) during the night. It is our personal shop. 5.: why not?

large extent man-made, shaped by andocentric panning and design cultures and by centuries of gender division and conflict18. The city is a place where women are ‘kept in their private place’ while the public space is male gendered. However by globalisation new notions of public life have entered the Muslim interpretation. Regardless of Islamism’s discursive fragmentation and obvious borrowing from Western-modernist narratives, no issue has aroused more controversy than the bodily representation of women wearing Islamic dress in urban public space. Veiling, the covering of women’s hair and sometimes face and form, has figured prominently within colonialist and Orientalist representations of Muslim societies19, they form the basic imaginary of the feminist part of public space. Even more it is so that in some communities, social contact between men and women who are not related is completely forbidden, thus resulting in segregated schools, businesses, government offices, and the virtual exclusion of women from positions of power or control. Not only a literature research manifests the gendered condition of the non-Western public space. Doing some fieldwork in the ‘handelstraat’, our modified non-Western context, the first thing that is noticeable is the occasionally presence of women in the scenery of public space. On the one hand one could argue that if women enter the public space they do it in an anonymous way. Totally veiled it is not possible to identify them or even to get an impression of them. On the other hand one could ascertain that women are most of the time accompanied by a male person when they enter the public space. The public space as a meeting space is like all facets of the life of Muslims, influenced by Islamic principles. The manner in which one interacts with others is a manifestation of her or his faith in God. Muslims follow the guidelines outlined in the Quran, not simply as an act of worship, but as an acceptance of the wisdom of God in guiding them to achieve their greatest potential in this life and salvation in the Hereafter. An analysis of the Islamic principles regarding the relationships between men and women will further clarify this point20. The public social interaction is principally a male action (privilege). Resulting form the interview one could argue that the social interaction is often restricted to the public building facilities, rather than the public urban space. Most public interactions are happening in Mosques, cafés, etc. The planned urban space is only used as a space for accidentally meetings and mobility. The social (or other) interactions take place within a commercial, leisure or daily life context.


person 06// 1.: Belgium (72yo) 2.: I see the big squares and streets as a public space. However I have to say that this neighbourhood is not good, you do not enter the public spaces here, to dangerous. 3.: -4.: I do not use this public space, to many immigrants. 5.: (see 4.:) person 07// 1.: Cameroen (54yo) 2.: At my country public spaces are the streets, the squares. In the big cities they can be safe, but the smaller ones you have to be carefull, like here. 3.: The difference between the public spaces of my country and in Belgium is the safety and the beauty of the squares and street. Also the organisation of cultural activities in the roads or on the squares, is someting that you don not see a lot in my country. 4.: I use it to pass by and of course if a cultural activity is organised. 5.: I do not like the public squares in this neighbourhood (street). Despite the presence of policemen it is very dangerous, certainly when those drugsdealers are there. person 08// 1.: Palestinian (27yo) 2.: We do not have a country, so we do not have public spaces either. 3.: I think the public space here, if you see it as a place of meeting, are the shops or the Arab cafés. Maybe my home too, but that is also a privatised space. 4.: I only use the public squares to pass by for the subway station or to cross over to go to the shop. 5.: If you do not harm them they do not harm you.

//the ‘handelstraat’// The ‘handelstraat’ is combining the notion of public space with the non-Western interpretation of it. Providing the neighbourhood with different forms and uses of public space. Additionally one could say that the recently presence of the East-European people can provide the neighbourhood with an even bigger variety of public spaces. Within the logic of the planned public space architecture and urbanism meant to structure people’s environment and sustain their permanency and stability21. The ‘handelstraat’ is ‘defined’ by two public places from which one is located at the end of the street in the Northeast, the other in

the west. Both squares function in the mise-en-scene of the architectural representation. They apply the common image of a Western public space, designed as a ‘huge’ blank surface, with some benches on it, they operate as a part of the reassesment plan of the city. The square that encloses the ‘handelstraat’ in the west partially co-operates with the professional centre NOA. Partially because the square helps to accentuate the face of the architectural object, while the NOA-building’s public interaction space is located within a fenced area. Both squares are given function by the implementation of subway-connections. They provide a function (of transit) on the one hand, the presence of an ‘alien’ object22 on the other hand. An object that is also used beyond its primal function. Youngsters are grouping around it, people are sheltering for the rain under it. Within the total planned configuration of the neighbourhood of the ‘handelstraat’, the two subway-stations operate most as public spaces. They provide a place of meeting, a place where people spontaneously start to babble, in short they allow social interaction. They allow the intentional activities for which the square was designed. The semi-public space can be seen as the exact translation of the multicultural influence on the public space. As mentioned before the designed public spaces are used in a minimal way for their planned purpose, probably because of the mixed cultural interpretations on the use of public space. This is where the semi-public space is put in the forefront. However a reflection on the word semi-public has to be made. Do we encounter the semi-public or the semi-private, which are both a contradiction on his or her own (considered Wim Cuyvers’ definition of public


interviewing people at the square that is located at the crossing of the ‘handelstraat’ and the ‘lange stuivenbergstraat’.

space23). The semi-public is, as Michiel Dehaene motioned in his work Heterotopia, a privatised space that is used for public purpose, however this public use is restricted or at least controlled. The semi-private is the opposite of the semi-public, in other words it has a limited public access. In the ‘handelstraat’ practically every house functions as a semi-public space. As the street is composed as a string of shops every privatised space (house) is partially public. Hereby an apprehension of the influence of the Muslim and other cultures has to be made. It is the semi-public space that starts to function as public meeting space in the neighbourhood. That is why I will go deeper into these spaces and finally compare them with the designed public space. the case-studies//

person 01// 1.: Afghani (24yo) was not allowed to speak from her husband! 2.: In Afghanistan we have a lot o public squares. And for the men the meetingplace is often the public bath, the Mosque or a café. 3.: In Belgium people can meet everywhere. I mostly meet my friends at home, because I am not allowed to go outside alone, except for groceries. 4.: I use the Belgium public space to go for groceries 5.: (see 3.:) person 02// 1.: Belgium (55yo) 2.: -3.: The Belgium public space can be a square, the street or even a café. I like to meet my friends in the café on the corner over there, every wedsnday evening. 4.: I use this square every day for the little walk with my dog. And this during the day, because if you leave them alone, they leave you alone. 5.: (see 4.:)

The ‘handelstraat’ is composed of a big variety of different shops. It functions as a shopping street and within this logic can be seen as a shopping centre (a place that is commonly defined as a semi-public space). Because of the big variety of shops this text will focus on the case study of the ‘internet shop’, a perfect example of what may be called ‘the crisis of place’24. A semi-public space where people no longer meet in a certain place but in a virtual world. As Bart Verschaffel also manifests that the act of meeting is completely disconnected from place; the place occupied by the speaker in reality (that is, where his or her body is) has no bearing on the speaking and listening, and does not determine the distance over which the voice carries. Virtual contact and virtual ubiquity result in the body being left behind on the edge of the network, as well as in new types of social relations, unconnected to bodily presence25. Moreover the ‘internets shop’ functions as a part of an international framework of semi-public spaces (internet shops). They connect the ‘handelstraat’ with worldwidediffused locations. The place acts as semi-public spaces, it is located in private properties but accessible for the public. Further I will research how the semi-public space is used as public space (meeting place). The research is principally based on the interviews and empirical study that I made. A set of questions that where asked to two different groups of people. First the shopkeeper, the owner of the semipublic space, was asked how his property was related to the public space in the street. How his shop was a part of the social interaction and how this was related to the cultural background. In other words, the shopkeeper had to answer the question if his place was functioning as a semi-public space and if this functioning was related to his origin. Further the inhabitants and passers in the street were asked how they experience public space. What space they use most for social interaction (walking with their dog does not counter in this case, as public space is specifically defined,


person 03// 1.: Congolese (52yo) 2.: I am from Kinshasa and there every open space is a public space, except when it is fenced. 3.: In Belgium the system of public spaces is completely different from Kinshasa. Everything is organised and you can clearly see what is public and what is not. 4.: I do not use the squares as public spaces, only to go to the tram, subway station, etc. 5.: I am disabled (she is alking with a cane) and their is to much vandalism on those squares. I even forbid my children to play here. person 04// 1.: Belgium (18yo) 2.: -3.: I think squares, streets, cafés, partyrooms, etc. They are all the perfect place to meet people. Except here. 4.: I do not live here, I am just here because my modelling-training is nearby. But I have to pass here for my tram... Believe me it can be dangerous here, certainly when you are a girl and it is after 8pm. 5.: (see 4.:) person 05// 1.: Afghani (22yo) 2.: In my country we meet our friends or other people in Mosques. 3.: Here you can meet people everywhere, even women are allowed in public. 4.: I use the squares, the café, etc. for their particullary reason. 5.: Because they are ment to use in that way.

in this paper, as a space of social interaction). During this research both female and male people were interviewed as well as immigrants and Belgian inhabitants. //the internet shop// The internet shop is a place where people, in a virtual way, can connect with their friends, relatives, etc. all over the world. The social interaction is no longer bounded to a physical location. People are meeting new (unknown) people without exposing themselves immediately. The empirical study of the internet users is often, within the academic discourse, related to the community networks and their social benefits to be found in widening public access26. However in this text I am not focussing on this aspect of the internet shop. Before I made the research I presumed that the basic user of an internet shop would be a ’have-not (concerning the access to the world wide web). Within this assumption the internet shop operates as a public space (see definition of Wim Cuyvers) by a necessity, after all the user of the shop is not able to have the virtual social interaction at home. However, after doing some first observations, the internet shop is not only a place of the ‘have-nots’ but also the ‘others’. Sarah Lee describes this phenomenon to the financial context of the user, as it could be assumed that internet café use, occurring as it does in a social space more likely to be used by those with disposable income, might be more leisure driven than internet use taking place in the home or office27. By this one could presume that the use of an internet café is more playful then it is professional. The same is adaptable for the ‘public’ phone services that are provided in these spaces. Entering an internet shop the first thing that I noticed was the feeling of not being home. A feeling that is evoked by the architectural configuration on the one hand, the access to the internet on the other. The architecture of the internet shop is a fiddled, simplistic architecture, that evokes a not comfortable feeling. The telephone boxes are located in front of the desk, they evoke a feeling of the original culture of the shopkeeper, the only reference to the ‘(not my)home’. The computers are most of the time located in the back of the room. They are installed in the most economical way for area use, while the shopkeeper pretends that that installation is made from a privacy point of view. But not only the architecture of the place is causing this ‘not-home’-feeling, also the fact that, in this public context, the internet provides an opportunity to renew the link with their home. Imagine sitting at home, on the computer, the internet provides the possibility to discover the world as an observer. Hence, the user of the internet shop is mostly away from home (see also later in this text) making a connection with his home trough e-mail, chatting, or even









reading local newspapers. Further it is obvious that the use of an internet shop is not comparable with the use of the internet in the home as the environment of the internet shop is fundamentally a public space. The use of the internet, the actions that one is making, the searches that are done are viewable by the people of the public as opposed to the privacy and controlled internet use of the house. Besides the lack in domesticity the internet shop is a popular semi-public space in the ‘handelstraat’. Interviewing the shopkeeper he always mentions the public character of the shop, a quality in which he does not participate. He controls the public space (and in a certain way its character) and in that sense operates beyond it. The ‘Fes-Telecom’ shop was the first shop in my research, a small internet shop that is crowded on the snowy day of my investigation. The Moroccan shopkeeper describes the public space of the ‘handelstraat’ as being the lovely designed squares in the West and Northeast.




“When I go out I basically go and sit on the squares, but not after seven o’clock, that is to dangerous. If you ask me where I meet my friends and other people then I would say the café. In our culture the café or Mosque is the ideal places to meet new (male) people and friends.” More interviews The interview with the shopkeeper was mainly focused on the way how he experiences or interpretes his shop as element in the framework of the public. In other words he was asked to give his opinion about the role of his shop in that framework. The questions that were asked for this research are.: 1.: What is your nationality? 2.: Do you live in this neighbourhood? 3.: What are most contacted countries in your shop? 4.: Do you see your shop as public space, and if so how does it function wthin this logic?

While most people confirm this habit, of meeting people, in the ‘typical’ public or semi-public place and relate this to their cultural background, the visitor of the internet shop experiences the shop as a space of social interaction. “Because I do not have a lot of friends here in Belgium, the shop is for me a place where I can meet my family and friends. I contact my brother and sister, who are in Turkey, every day. Sometimes I call them (in one of the phone boxes of the shop), sometimes I just chat with them on messenger.” “We come here and play some computer games with each other. At home we are not allowed to play games and because of the weather and sometimes the people we are not allowed to play on the squares or street either.”

The internet shop is a place where people interact with each other. This can be done in a physical or virtual way. Children are normally not allowed in this shop, but because the shopkeeper knows the parents and because of the In this section not only weather today is an exception. The people are causing a the interviews but also flow of going in or out. While I am busy interviewing the the architecture of the internet shop is presented. shopkeeper people, that are waiting for the phone boxes,



internet phone ‘public’

1.: Morrocan 2.: yes I live at the other side of this shop. It is a dangerous but also a nice neighbourhood. 3.:People that use my services and technology are from different countries all over the world. It is hard to say what the most contacted countries are. 4.: The square, the street, the café, that are public spaces, not my shop. People come here to contact their friends and relatives that are abroad. If you define public space as meeting people, well in that case my shop could be functioning as a public space. @-telecom shop//

internet phone ‘public’

1.: Afghani 2.: I do not live in this street. I live a little bit further in the East. 3.: Most of the time Morocco, Tunesia and Algiers. 4.: Yes I think my shop is a public space. Albeit I meet my friends in the street, sometimes spontaneous conversations start

start spontaneous conversations. The shopkeeper confirms the assumption that this is a common picture. Even more the @-shop28, that is opened by an Iraqi, has anticipated on this phenomenon of spontaneous social interaction. He explains that it is important to give the neighbourhood a feeling of ‘home’, of ‘community’. While this social interaction does not appear in the other @-shop. The Pakistani prefers an economical interaction instead of any social interactions. “People are coming and going, and as you can see we have installations enough to provide them with our services. If it happens that somebody has to wait then he can use a chair. I do not like it when people are grouping in my store and start babbling about the facts of life, this is an internet shop and people like their privacy here.” “When I meet people I prefer to do it according to the customs of my cultural background, meaning in the Mosque, café or in the park. But of course as a shopkeeper I like it when people come and have a little chat with me. That is why I installed that little (sitting)corner over there. When people have to wait they can buy something to drink, a small thing to eat and sit in that corner. Sometimes, when I am not to busy, I even join them… Of course I also like it when my friends or family just pass by for a little visit. I think if you see public space as a space of meeting people then this shop is a public space. People meet new people here every day, sometimes they chat with new people, they are looking for a new girl- or boyfriend or people just meet here, in the shop.” The shop clearly functions as public space in a broader perspective than the designed public spaces in the original or local context. Not only the absence of highly noticeable and cultural related conventions manifest this observation. The presence of women in this semi-public space break with the assumptions of the Muslim conventions. However the male often accompanies the female figure, some of them, mostly young women, are completely emancipated. Sarah Lee describes the presence of women (in general) to the relation between home us and the image of ‘nerd’29. To comprehend this rupture with the Muslim conventions I interviewed the women (those that were accompanied as well as the emancipated females) and the shopkeeper about this phenomenon. “It is true that according to the Quran, women


between the visitors. People from different nations start to chat about the facts of life. Even women sometimes meet here... It is true that according to the Quran, women are not allowed in the public. And if you see my shop as the (semi-) public the Quran would prohibit them to be here, certainly to have social interaction in this place... I think that is reasonable, the man has to protect his wife and as said before the wife is normally not allowed in here! @-telecom shop//

internet phone

‘public’ meeting place

1.: Iraqi 2.: Yes, I live on the first and scond floor of this building. 3.: That is hard to say, but if I have to pick some out I would say African and Middle-East countries. But also Belgium phonenumbers are dialled a lot. 4.: My shop is a public space (according to the defenition of meeting place). I even installed a a little corner where people can drink or eat something. A nice place to meet your friends or new people... I don’t mind women in public spaces, and certainly not in my shop. Why should I, my wife has found some nice work in Brussels, my daughter is going to the University in Leuven. We are in an other culture now, and it is true that we still respect the old cultural believes of the Quran but we have to be flexible, it is like your bible, you do not follow it to the letter, do you?

are not allowed in the public. And if you see my shop as the (semi-)public the Quran would prohibit them to be here, certainly to have social interaction in this place.” Noticing that most of the women are accompanied by their man and avoid social interaction (interview)… “I think that is reasonable, the man has to protect his wife and as said before the wife is normally not allowed in here! Of course the younger women do honour the Quran as the older ones, it is still a basic of our culture.” “I don’t mind women in public spaces, and certainly not in my shop. Why should I, my wife has found some nice work in Brussels, my daughter is going to the University in Leuven. We are in an other culture now, and it is true that we still respect the old cultural believes of the Quran but we have to be flexible, it is like your bible, you do not follow it to the letter, do you?”








“I like to be here (in the shop), first it is a necessity to stay in contact with my family in Pakistan. Further it is much safer as the outdoor public spaces, as a lot of drug use is happening on them. As women I am not allowed in the semi-public spaces, like a café, and outdoors I am not allowed to have social interactions. Most of the time I meet with friends in my home or here, when we contact our friends and family that are abroad, at the same time.” “As women I am supposed to stay inside, wear my headscarf, etc. However my family and me are quit flexible in these customs. That is why I am allowed, as some friends, in the public. It is true that my boyfriend does not completely trusts that but as new Muslim people we can live with those new customs.” It is obvious that the internet shop functions as a (semi-) public space in different ways of means. Not only is this use not related to the cultural background of the neighbourhood (cfr. Sarah Lee), it is also a contradiction to the cultural LANGE STUIVENbelieves of the ‘handelstraat’ its inhabitants. BERGSTRAAT The internet shop forms a part of an international network of (semi-)public spaces. It connects people and allows them to have social (virtual) interaction. In contradiction to the physical public space, the primal activity of meeting is disconnected from the physical space.30 Nevertheless physical social interactions can take place in the shop.


Noumedia// internet phone ‘public’

1.: Moroccan 2.: I live a little further in this street. 3.: Most African and East European countries. 4.: A lot of odler people come for some help like printing something or if they have some difficulties with their phone. However defining my shop as a public space is maybe a little bit exaggerated. Inter-Call//

internet phone ‘public’

1.: Pakistani 2.: I live in Borgerhout 3.: Every country in the world: Morocco, Belgium, Canada, Palestine, Russia, etc. 4..: People are coming and going, and as you can see we have installations enough to provide them with our services. If it happens that somebody has to wait then he can use a chair. I do not like it when people are grouping in my store and start babbling about the facts of life, this is an internet shop and people like their privacy here.

Surprisingly the internet shop seems to escape the cultural customs that relate the (semi-)public to the gender. Women are allowed to visit and use the space without a male company. Even more they can have physical or virtual social interactions in this place. The complete opposite of the physical (semi-)public (‘café). Asking if this exception is applicable for the complete interpretation of the public space opinions are divided. “As a Pakistani I am not allowed to use the public space as men do, but this rule does not have any effect on the designed (outdoor) public spaces in Belgium. However I think, and certainly not in this neighbourhood, it is not wise to do so. This because it is to dangerous outside, certainly when night falls.”

most contacted regions (intense =dark blue)

most contacted cities.

“According to the rules of the Quran I am obliged to accompany my wife when she uses the public space for other reasons that shopping.” “As an Albanese I am allowed to use the public space without any restrictions. I see that most of the Muslim women are wearing special clothing (veils) or are accompanied by a male companion when they enter the pubic space. Further I also think it is smart to avoid the squares after seven pm, then it is to dangerous outside.” Even more the interviews and empirical study revealed the dangerous character of the other public space (designed squares). People are avoiding (as mentioned before) the outdoor squares or apply the cultural believes for use on it. In other words, the internet shop, or the semi-public spaces in general, are preferred for public use. Because, most of the time, the rules of the Quran are applied on the designed public space (square) or because of its dangerous character the semi-public creates a perfect alternative.


endnotes// 1 in Antwerp (Belgium) gentrification has become a core element for the establishment of a new hegemony in urban policy. This process started after the crumbling of modernist hegemony in the 1970s, when a counterhegemonic discourse appeared revolving around the concept of liveability, to which gentrification appears as the—belated and probably still provisional—answer. (Maarten Loopmans, 2008) 2 A public space refers to an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants discriminated based on background. Non-governmentowned malls are examples of ‘private space’ with the appearance of being ‘public space’. Public space has also become something of a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geography, visual art, cultural studies, social studies and urban design. Its relevance seems to become more pressing as capital encloses more and more of what were thought of as ‘commons’. The term ‘Public Space’ is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as ‘gathering place’, which is an element of the larger concept. ( 3 Bart Verschaffel, “Semi-public Spaces: The Spatial Logic of Institutions”, p. 1 4 These obvious signifiers are for example mosques, public baths, community halls, etc. In other words architectural objects that symbolise, in their culture, the meeting activity of the public space. 5 jve, “Marokkaanse nostalgie in de Handelstraat”, in de Standaard, Antwerpen, November 2003 6 André Loeckx, Hilde Heynen, “Scene of Ambivalence: Concluding Remarks on Architectural Patterns of Displacement”, in JAE, issue 52, n° 2, 1998, p. 102 7 In this text I decided to restrict the information of the interviews. This because of the privacy of the interviewed person. 8 Bruno De Meulder, Hilde Heynen, “The role of space in processes of exclusion and normalisation. An explanation based on a detailed case study (De Coninckplein, Antwerp)”, p.5 9 Petra Van der Jeught, “Brakin, visualizing the visible”, Baden, Muller, 2006, p. 290 10 Petra Van der Jeught, “Brakin, visualizing the visible”, Baden, Muller, 2006, p. 290 11 Stephan Carr, Mark Francis, “ Public Space (Environment and Behavior”, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 1 12 Stephan Carr, Mark Francis, “ Public Space (Environment and Behavior”, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 1 13 In their book “Heterotopia and the city”, Michiel Dehaene and Lieven de Cauter accredit this ‘new’ concept


to the debates caused by the city’s poverty and the lament of public space. These debates of poverty, referred to as the requiem, are caused by the increasing scale of the city. 14 Michiel Dehaene, Lieven de Cauter, “Heterotopia and the city: public space in a postcivil society”, Routledge, New York, 2008, p. 3 15 Nilfüfer Göle, “Islam in Public: New Visibilities and New Imaginaries”, p.174 16 Nilfüfer Göle, “Islam in Public: New Visibilities and New Imaginaries”, p.176 17 Levitt, P. Between God, “Ethnicity, and Country: An Approach to the Study of Transnational Religion. Oxford: Transnational Communities Working Paper WPTC-01-13.” 18 Helen Jarvis, Paul Kantor, Jonathan Cloke, “Cities and Gender”, London, 2009, p. 133 19 Kandyiti Deniz, “Introduction, in: DENIZ KANDIYOTI (E d.) Women, Islam and the State”, London, in Macmillan, pp . 1– 21 20 Muslim Women’s League, “http://www.mwlusa. org/topics/gender_relations/socialinteraction.html” 21 Hanaa Motasim, “ Displacement and the Perception of Space-Internally Displacement Persons in Khartoum”, p. 5 22 The subway station operates as an alien object in a complete different way as the previously mentioned ‘alien’ objects. After all the station can not be seen as the result of multicultural stimulus of the area. 23 Petra Van der Jeught, “Brakin, visualizing the visible”, Baden, Muller, 2006, p. 290 24 for a good overview on this theme see, De Meyer Dirk, “Part one: Theory”, by the Ghent Urban Studies Team (GUST), 1999, pp. 13-151 25 Bart Verschaffel, “Semi-public Spaces: The Spatial Logic of Institutions”, p. 1 26 Brian Kahin, James Keller, “Public Access to the Internet”, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1995 27 Sarah Lee, “Private uses in public spaces, a study of an internet café”, in “New Media & Society”, London, 1999, p.336 28 Some shopkeepers preferred to keep their internet shops name anonymous. In this text they are referred to as @-stores. 29 Sarah Lee, “Private uses in public spaces, a study of an internet café”, in “New Media & Society”, London, 1999, p.345 30 To opposite is happening in the physical public-space. A perfect example of this space is the ‘café’. A place that entails that the act of speaking is completely connected to a specific place, the social interaction is happening at a certain moment in a certain place. Within the context of the ‘handelstraat’ the ‘café’ is a gendered space, connected to the cultural background of the Muslim, women are not allowed alone in this (semi-)public space and certainly not able to have social interaction in that space.


references// Bart Verschaffel, “Semi-public Spaces: The Spatial Logic of Institutions” Brian Kahin, James Keller, “Public Access to the Internet”, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1995 Bruno De Meulder, Hilde Heynen, “The role of space in processes of exclusion and normalisation. An explanation based on a detailed case study (De Coninckplein, Antwerp)” Hanaa Motasim, “ Displacement and the Perception of Space-Internally Displacement Persons in Khartoum” Helen Jarvis, Paul Kantor, Jonathan Cloke, “Cities and Gender”, London, 2009 jve, “Marokkaanse nostalgie in de Handelstraat”, in de Standaard, Antwerpen, November 2003 Kandyiti Deniz, “Introduction, in: DENIZ KANDIYOTI (E d.) Women, Islam and the State”, London, in Macmillan Levitt, P. Between God, “Ethnicity, and Country: An Approach to the Study of Transnational Religion. Oxford: Transnational Communities Working Paper WPTC-01-13.” Michiel Dehaene, Lieven de Cauter, “Heterotopia and the city: public space in a postcivil society”, Routledge, New York, 2008 Nilfüfer Göle, “Islam in Public: New Visibilities and New Imaginaries” Petra Van der Jeught, “Brakin, visualizing the visible”, Baden, Muller, 2006 Sarah Lee, “Private uses in public spaces, a study of an internet café”, in “New Media & Society”, London, 1999 Stephan Carr, Mark Francis, “ Public Space (Environment and Behavior”, Cambridge University Press, 1992 -h t t p : / / w w w. m w l u s a . o rg / t o p i c s / g e n d e r _ r e l a t i o n s / socialinteraction.html

a paper by ir.-arch. B. Van Hulle, (Ghent University) student at the advanced master program Human Settlements, KULeuven University.


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