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What is public access?

Retail is an allowable activity in public space under a Wellington City Council bylaw. But why is retail space deemed 'public'?

Is it public merely by dint of saying that one person's money is as welcome as anothers? That I have equal right to handle and peruse the goods as much as any other person, with the potential to make a purchase? What if I seem unsuitable and am judged to be the wrong sort of clientele? So I'm an old woman in smelly urine-encrusted track pants.  Presumably I am legally able to have public access into the Prada pop-up shop on the waterfront, but in actuality, I'll be asked to leave or bundled out the back exit by the anxious sticks-for-legs that hover over the handbags.  But say I produce 8 hundred dollar bills. Presumably I am allowed to return to purchase the clutch purse. Money becomes the great equalizer for access.

Retail is clearly not the only kind of public space we are allowing on Wellington's waterfront but it has become one of the predominant forms. And now that retail is witnessing major assaults on its profits from online sales and general recessionary malaise, it is looking less attractive as a regular and consistent source of space filling. Art appears, for once, to be a more stable and constant alternative.

Sophie Jerram


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