Transformation from Public Sphere to Common Space: Comparative Cases from Istanbul and Barcelona


  • Hilal Erkuş Akdeniz University
  • Gulsah Akdeniz University


Common space , social movements, Public sphere, Community Public Space




In political science theories, definitions of the public sphere are discussed through concrete examples in urban life, and it is observed that there is no clear definition of what the "public sphere" includes. While Habermas(2004) considers the public sphere as a field of communicative action, Arendt(2012) considers the public sphere as a field of work, labor, and action. Unlike these two important approaches, Sennett (2010) considers the public sphere as a space where adult citizens can become actors and become increasingly homogenized. The most important element at the center of these debates is the forms of social relations in spaces of togetherness. This study argues that public spaces can be transformed into common spaces through the theory of "common space", which offers a theoretical framework that can also encompass the public sphere. While one can participate in the public sphere as a "citizen" within the framework of certain norms, participation in the commons is based on the individual's belonging and his/her agency. The unwritten forms of behavior and will that be inherent in the state of being a community are sufficient for participation in the commons. The enclosure of public space by the state or the private sector (with different forms of intervention) and the acquisition of the space in favor of social demand because of social movements against this, regardless of what the concept of "public space" represents, public space can turn into a common space because of community action and will. At this point, the main problem of this study is to reveal whether the transformation of public spaces into common spaces is possible, the role of actors in this process, and whether these processes lead to an alternative form of spatiality in countries with different governance structures. For this reason, Turkey and Spain have been selected for the study, where the social movements that increased after the 2008 crisis were intensively observed. The most important factors in the selection of these two countries are their similarities in basic sectors such as tourism, services, and agriculture, as well as in areas such as housing, construction, and public services. The qualitative research method based on secondary data was used in the study, and newspaper news, interview articles, and graduate theses on the fields were scanned and analyzed in terms of content.

Located in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, Validebağ Grove is one of the last green areas of the densely built-up city, as well as a place of memory with important and historical buildings. Following the discussions on the opening of the Validebağ Grove for construction, citizens started a social movement in this space, held vigils in the grove for months, and stopped the construction decision. After the decision was stopped, the common use of the grove increased with the will of the citizens themselves, and the vigils of the citizens who could not trust the decision taken continued. Another example is Can Batlló, a former factory located in the Sant neighborhood of Barcelona, the largest city in Spain. This former factory site was planned to be transformed into a project with green areas and social housing in the general plan of the metropolitan municipality. This plan was not implemented for 40 years and the area was left dysfunctional. As a result of residents' organizing, the factory site was occupied in 2011 and transformed into a socio-cultural center.

The main findings of the study show that public spaces can be transformed into "common spaces" and give rise to a new spatial alternative after social movements and the will shown by these movements. The main factors required for this are social organization, the will shown for the spatial demand, and the negotiation process established with the local government. Considering the role of local governments in the process of spatial transformation, it is seen that the transformation of space in favor of the "common good or public interest" is made possible by granting local governments more authority and freedom of decision-making and rescaling the state from the local level.


Arendt, H. (2012). İnsanlık Durumu. (Çev. B. S. Şener). İletişim Yayınları, İstanbul.

Habermas, J. (2004). "Kamusal Alan". içinde Kamusal Alan (Der. ve Çev. M. Özbek). Hill Yayınları, İstanbul.

Sennett, R. (2010). Kamusal İnsanın Çöküşü. (Çev. S. Durak ve A. Yılmaz). Ayrıntı Yayınları, İstanbul.