Who owns the streets you walk on? Eilis murphy finds that the assumption they are public is, a false one.
Urban “regeneration” schemes can result in streets that appear to be public but are in fact owned by property developers, corporations and NAMA. These areas are policed by private security, who forbid busking, begging, skateboarding and even photography. To experience this first-hand, take the Luas to Tallaght, step off the tram and walk a few metres into the glass-and-concrete ghost town that is Tallaght Cross. It’s a “regenerated” zone: pedestrianised streets between new and mostly empty buildings. You can spend your money in Marks & Spencer, the Lidl or the cafe, but if you take out a camera on the street, security guards instantly accost you to tell you photography is forbidden.
The explanation they give is that the streets are “private”. They were owned by property developers, but now that most of Tallaght Cross has passed into NAMA, the streets essentially belong to the proverbial people. Yet those people cannot take photographs in the street, even though an array of CCTV cameras record their every move.
Late last year, a group of artists organised a photo flash mob in Tallaght as a means of highlighting this absurdity. The flash mob was an intervention into the politics of the space, a way of confronting this tightly controlled, privately policed twilight zone. On cue, the flash mobbers whipped out their cameras and started shooting gleefully in the forbidden zone. The security guards confronted them immediately, but either because of the size of the group or due to some confusion, they suggested that the group had “special permission” to photograph. Nevertheless, they shadowed the flash photographers closely as they photo-blitzed these previously uncaptured buildings.
Curious to know what laws are behind this ban, the artists wrote to the security firm guarding this area. The manager replied that asking members of the public not to take photos “is not part of our assignment instructions and the security staff member may have been over zealous in his duties on the day and did so on his own initiative.” The group says this is nonsense: aside from the day of the flash mob, every time they tried to use a camera in Tallaght Cross, all security guards insisted that photography is “strictly forbidden” and badgered them until they put their cameras away.
Tallaght Cross is just one of many invisibly bordered zones in Dublin: you don’t know you’re in one until you try to snap a shot.
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