quasi-public spaces

From my Facebook account, July 23, 2015:

[note: I saw a man, apparently homeless, using a Starbucks cup to justify his occupying space in an outdoor seating area.]

A slow yielding of public to private spaces (an old ebb and flow) led to a tremendous opportunity for Starbucks in the early 1990s: not to sell coffee but to rent public space.

To rent a Starbucks public space you purchase a disposable token (a white Starbucks coffee cup) and place it near your person. The cup contains a complimentary drink. The tokens – cups – are uniform in outward appearance but can be filled with various liquids which are sold at different prices to allow the consumer to signal who they are. The liquids may be consumed.

It’s understandable that Starbucks would attempt to program a discussion of race throughout its chain of “public squares.” The effort failed but I bet they’ll try again, perhaps by allowing regional or individual stores to set the agenda and partnering with established brands.

I was reminded of Starbucks’ trade in public spaces by the below short history of anti-theft devices in medieval libraries:

Do you leave your e-reader or iPad on the table in Starbucks when you are called to pick up your cup of Joe? You’re probably not inclined to do this, because the object in question might be stolen. The medieval reader would nod his head approvingly, because book theft happened in his day too.

From my Facebook account, April 18, 2018:

Basically, Starbucks coffee shops are so prevalent, they’re a quasi-public space.

Meanwhile, there’s very few public spaces being built. So where do you go meet a friend? What public space can you occuppy?

And when you’re in a private space, the rules are different. In principle, the police exist to serve and protect THE PUBLIC but, in practice, they often serve PRIVATE interests – i.e., those of businesses.

We need more public spaces. Not co-working spaces, not chill bars, not coffee shops. Public spaces that faciltate a vibrant civil society. No transaction needed.

And, yes, private companies that provide a quasi-public service (this web site [Facebook] included) should be held to the highest standards – i.e., those of our public sites.

Also, more / better: A conversation about Starbucks, white fear, and being black in public.


Patrick Skinner, via Twitter:

People in my precinct need more public places to hang out without fear of ‘loitering’. The commercialization of our common spaces & criminalization of sidewalks has made ‘hanging out’ a crime. I support anything that gets neighbors out & active in their streets. They live there.