Select Page

Create a Democratic Space

What is it? A democratic space is a public site designated and designed for free speech and expression.  By creating specific public spaces for people to share their thoughts, localities encourage public conversations and input.  Places such as parks and libraries have traditionally allowed for the free congregation of people to use their rights of free speech and expression, but the generation of such dialogue is somewhat limited or haphazard.  Local governments and organizations can promote civic values and openness by enhancing existing public space with platforms for shared expression, such as video terminals with software for gathering public comments.  Creating a specific space designed to encourage free expression and open, frank conversations can go a long way toward creating a more democratic culture beyond just that one place.

How has it been used? Charlottesville, VA has a downtown walking mall which is already a form of democratic space, in that it is open to anyone and all kinds of expression are exhibited on a daily basis.  However, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression went further and constructed a free speech monument at one end of the mall.  This monument has both a platform for people to speak their piece and a chalkboard where all people are encouraged to contribute their thoughts.  These serve as a way of fostering conversations that might never happen otherwise.  The range of potential conversations is bounded only by the creativity of those that choose to participate. (Source: The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression)

Further Reading

Public Space as Democratic Space: Parks as Agents for Social Change

What Makes Public Space Good for Democracy?

Libraries and Democratic Life: Promoting Civic Engagement

South LA Democratic Spaces