The political grind: the role of youth identities in the municipal politics of public space
While it is typically considered a universal public good in contemporary liberal states, public space is a scarce and hotly contested resource. This study explores Seattle, Washington's experiences attempting to politically accommodate a new set of claims to public space on behalf of a particularly problematic set of users, young skateboarders. In order to understand how activists, neighborhood groups, bureaucrats, and elected officials negotiated political decisions about the allocation of public space I focused my inquiry upon the role of and identity during a series of struggles over public skatepark projects in Seattle. The core research question was: how does the way the users of public space are defined during the political process impact the governmental allocation of such public goods? The findings indicate that struggles over where, if anywhere, skateparks should be provided have largely been resolved in terms of who young skateboarders are. Such discursively ubiquitous but politically excluded populations as young skaters---whom I describe as discursive proxies---serve several essential functions in the politics of public space. First, discursive proxies enable the transformation of "where" questions into "who" questions. Questions about how to allocate scarce public space resources were largely resolved in terms of one-dimensional discursive struggles over what kind of people the ostensible users of that space would be. Second, debates over who such discursive proxies are serve as a proxy for much more profound and potentially problematic political debates. Third, the discursive proxy enables the negotiation of the "distributive dilemma of liberalism." Modern liberal states are premised upon the universal provision of public goods---including public space---without regard to class, race, economic might, or the like. Paradoxically, liberal states are also premised upon the unequal distribution of state goods in an uneven and preferential manner. Populations like youthful skaters enable decision makers to navigate this dilemma by abstracting discussion away from questions as to who will and will not reap the benefits of public space. Instead, these decisions may be couched in terms of the constructed identities of groups that are deemed to be deserving or undeserving of a given public good.
- Geography