The Open Use Of Open Spaces


I recently got back from working in Edinburgh and Glasgow for a week (truthfully, 25% working, 50% crawling book shops, 25% thinking about book shops). I hadn't been back to the UK to do tourist-y things in a few years, and one thing that really struck me over the week was the entry fees to get into museums and art galleries.

There weren't any. I had genuinely forgotten that this was a thing in the UK. What was really striking was how odd it felt to just be able to walk into the National Museum in Edinburgh or the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow without buying a ticket. It's a really grim feeling to realise you had so internalised the logic of austerity that a still existing, free-at-the-point-of-entry public good that existed for no other reason than public good is remarkable.

One of the valuable things about the lack of cost to entry to these places is that it promotes, or at least allows for, alternative uses of these spaces. In the National Museum in particular, there were lots of people just reading books in the central atrium, sketching exhibits or just hanging out in the space. It contributes again to the vibe of the Museum as something other than its stated purpose, as a (warm, indoors, sheltered) public space.

You never really see this as much in the big Berlin museums of the Museumsinsel - the Altes/Neues Museum, Nationalgalerie and the Pergamon. Individual tickets to these places cost around 9 euros each (or 19 euros for a combi ticket) and it makes little sense to use them as communal public spaces for anything other than their intended, stated purpose as museums. Monetisation produces changes in behaviour - if it costs, you end up min/maxing the utility. You do see this communal use of the garden spaces between the museums, but it's obviously weather dependant.

It made me a little melancholy just how unexpected and out-of-place free, unconditional museum entry was. Like the capitalist realism of the now, of endless austerity and piecemeal stripping away of what narrow slivers of public good remaining, was something I had been resigned to. I just hope these remain museums, galleries and public spaces remain free and unconditional.