Berlin beats London and Washington in league table of world's best democratic space

Aug 08, 2012

New research from the University of Warwick suggests that Berlin has the best democratic space in the world, topping a list that includes London, Washington and Tokyo.

The list appears in a new book, 'Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance' written by Dr John Parkinson, from the University of Warwick's Politics and International Studies department.

Dr Parkinson carefully selected 11 capital cities and assessed how well they provide space for all kinds of democratic action. He visited Berlin, Washington, Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington, Hong Kong, , London, Tokyo, Santiago and Cape Town.

He said: "In my book I have tried to answer the question, what makes for a good capital city from a democratic point of view? Even though revolutions and protests may be co-ordinated via and Twitter, they still involve real people who take up, occupy, share and contest physical space. Politics is still a physical pursuit, even in an online, interconnected world."

Dr Parkinson looked at a number of criteria, including the accessibility of , but also the availability of public meeting space, parks and footpaths, public transport systems and more.

"I wanted to see not just how formal buildings like parliaments work, but how easy it is for citizens to perform democratic roles in those cities. Plenty of cities are good for shopping and tourism; democratic citizenship is harder."

Berlin came top of the list because it ticked many of the boxes. Dr Parkinson attributes this to the city's past as a symbolic battleground.

He said: "Berlin has been the site of so many battles over the use of public space for political purposes. Right now, battles continue over how far the city should go erasing the physical remnants of Cold War divisions. Even questions over sites like Tempelhof Airport, a Nazi-era building but an important symbol of the Berlin Airlift, are unresolved. But the very fact that people have these debates is healthy – it means Berliners are more likely to value space for expressly democratic purposes, and resist attempts to turn it over to purely commercial or leisure interests."

Cape Town is bottom of the list largely because the public is heavily stratified there, the legacy of the apartheid era. Dr Parkinson also notes that in Washington DC the needs of heritage and tourism dominate the democratic spaces, such as the Congress building. "

London is placed eighth in the list because: "Comparatively, London is a ferociously expensive city to get around; its public spaces are policed to an extent unmatched except by Washington; and it is indulging in the privatisation of footpaths and roadways."

The full list of cities:

1) Berlin
2) Wellington
3) Ottawa
4) Canberra
5) Washington, DC
6) Hong Kong
7) Mexico City
8) London
9) Tokyo
10) Santiago/Valparaiso
11) Cape Town

Explore further: New 'Surveyman' software promises to revolutionize survey design and accuracy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Designing a city for safe protests

Feb 23, 2011

Civil protests, from peaceful sit-ins at the Pentagon to violent riots in Cairo, nonetheless share some common characteristics. To study how protests evolve in public spaces, Dr. Tali Hatuka, an architect and head of Tel ...

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
Democracy citizenship has little to do with the opportunities created by public space--it lies in the respect the democratic institutions in a society give to ordinary to shape important decisions that determine their life. Germany comes out low due to its Euro Referendum. There was not one--it hardly matters Berlin has good democratic space, ordinary Germans were denied the opportunity to have their say on something core and fundamental to their lives--simply because the opinion polls suggested they did not understand the "European project" .