4.4 Politics and the Law: The First Amendment

The Constitution of the United States of America: The First Amendment:

One very important political perspective in the production and use of public space is the law, beginning with the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and the right to assemble in public. The exact text is as follows:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. [1]

Local Laws and Ordinances: “Loitering and Spitting”

Over the years many American cities have passed laws designed to restrict some activities that have been perceived as impinging on the rights of others such as loitering (with ill or criminal intent), spitting (gross, and potentially a public health problem), aggressive panhandling, and panhandling near ATM machines.

One perspective is that these types of laws respect the first amendment while tinkering with it at the margins, all with the hope of increasing public safety and enjoyment of a place for all members of the public. Another perspective is that these types of laws are applied unevenly and unfairly to specific groups. For example, in Minneapolis a couple of years ago, City Council voted to repeal an existing law that allowed police to stop and question people who were loitering. Some people believe that the law gave police the ability to stop drug deals and other nuisance and quality of life crimes (particularly around downtown and at bus stops) while others felt these laws were disproportionately used to target young African Americans, which is the reason the law was repealed.

Are the skyways public or private?
In Downtown Minneapolis, the Skyway system presents a uniquely gray area with respect to the first amendment. The skyways and the second-floor space in the office buildings that are connected by the skyways are all private property. At the same time, the skyway system is widely used by the general public as a way to get around downtown Minneapolis, particularly in the winter. Because they are private, however, the skyways are policed by private security companies who work for the building owners, rather than by Minneapolis Police Department officers, who patrol the streets below. So, do you think you have first amendment rights inside the skyways? Some people receive different treatment in the skyways than they do on the public street – is this right?

In the production and operation of public places, the owners and operators of such places (governments, non-profit organizations, and private companies) must constantly seek to strike a fine balance between perceived ideas of “quality of life” and “livability” in public spaces and the rights of all citizens and users of the public realm. This may be one of the greatest challenges facing the production and operation of public places today.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (“CPTED”) is an approach to designing the built environment to enhance public safety. CPTED relies on a combination of natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, access control, and maintenance. Natural surveillance means designing a place so that there are always people watching over it – the so-called “eyes on the street.” Territorial reinforcement means designing a place so that there is a clear delineation between public and private space while also signaling ownership. Access control limits the number of access points to a place by using fencing, plantings, or other features to a place, also delineating between public and private and controlling both ways in and ways out, whch matter both to potential criminals and to potential victims. Maintenance shows that a place is owned and cared for, which deters criminal behavior and quality-of-life crimes. [2]

CPTED has its own section in the new 2040 Plan for Minneapolis (the “Comp Plan”). Through community meetings and feedback, CPED staff learned during the first draft of the 2040 plan that minority community members believed that CPTED principles as drafted were directed at minority groups, so CPED staff re-wrote the section, now titled “Public Safety Through Environmental Design.” Below is the summary with a link to the full document:

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a commonly-used term for designing the built environment to contribute to a sense of safety. The four elements of CPTED are: natural surveillance and visibility; lighting; territorial reinforcement and space delineation, and natural access control. The City of Minneapolis requires all new development to be designed using CPTED principles and encourages the renovation of existing development to conform to CPTED principles. This includes development projects that are both publicly and privately owned as well as those that impact the public realm such as open spaces and parks.


Producing the Urban Public Realm: Field Notes on Project Implementation Copyright © by Peter Hendee Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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