Most of what I enjoy about living in an urban area are the public aspects—the parks and museums and celebrations and the diversity of people one comes across in the normal events of life. Most of what I do not enjoy about living in an urban area are what occurs in public spaces—from people smoking in non-smoking areas to annoying cellphone conversations to loud music leaking from earbuds and headphones to people deliberately blocking the entrance/exits on public transit to those riding bikes on sidewalks. The times when we share the public space as public space are wonderful; the times when the
public space is treated like a private fiefdom are dreadful.
There is a definitive erosion of the barrier between public and private which is resulting in the shared space being taken over for personal use, personal use that all too often interferes in the enjoyment and usage of the space by others.
Sometimes this is merely annoying. The droning base beat leaking from someone’s headphones is a background irritant, it merely makes riding public transit less pleasant for people.
Sometimes this is harmful. Off trail bike riding in environmentally sensitive areas leading to erosion and power boats on an otherwise quiet lakefront disturbing nesting birds takes a toll on an already stressed world.
Perhaps this is due to an inability to empathise with others—we aren’t able to put ourselves in the place of others and therefore can’t realise that what we are doing can cause harm. Perhaps it is a variant of the capitalist individualism, which puts individual desire over the collective interest. Perhaps it is a learned survival trait, cutting out everyone else in order to reduce the stress of normal life.
Whatever the reason for the growing erosion of the concept of private and the diminution of shared public interest in public space, life is harder as a result of this change. Rage is less foreign; interference in the peaceful enjoyment of a walk in Edwards Gardens far too common. Even in the daily intimacies of relationships people will attempt to both listen to music on headphones and carry on a conversation, with the inevitable loss of nuanced conversation.
This is different than a lack of courtesy. It is more harsh than that. It is a way of living in the world that seems intent on dividing each of us from one another, of being consciously unaware of the effects of our actions on one another and the world around us.