In 2018 the small city of Leeuwarden, situated in the northern province of Friesland in the Netherlands, became European Capital of Culture. Like in many cities that held this title before it, some of the cultural and promotional projects undertaken for this event left lasting traces in the city. One of these is the redesign of the area surrounding the city’s central train station. The previously busy road with a roundabout was turned into a plaza-like area with a conspicuous fountain and designated a ‘shared space’, meaning that motorists, cyclists and pedestrians now make use of it collectively. Another addition was a row of flags of the countries of the European Union, positioned down the middle of the road leading up to the train station.
This assemblage of changes in architectural design and use of the space achieved a remarkable communicative effect. The central node through which the city of Leeuwarden connects to the outside world became more accessible to various types of users, and those who now arrive by train get a much more friendly outlook on the city. Cars approaching the area are necessitated to slow down and in doing so, their occupants are encouraged to appreciate the city’s active membership in the European community, explicitly referenced by the presence of the European flags.
Interestingly, this message can even be tweaked in reaction to current events: when Brexit happened in early 2020, the British Union Jack had to be removed from the row of flags. Not wanting to leave an empty space in the sets of two flags, the city council quickly decided to replace it with the Scottish flag, in reference to Scottish regrets about having to join the UK in leaving the European Union. The decision was justified by referring to a cultural inter-city collaboration with Edinburgh within the City of Literature and Eurocities networks. The message is clear: Leeuwarden is an active and vocal participant of this much larger international community – in which it would like to have the Scots, who are seen as like-minded people, on board.
Scholars of communication studies have called such places in modern cities ‘communicative spaces’. Victoria Gallagher, Kenneth Zagacki and Norris Martin (2012) in an article on the modern-day Chicago Millennium Park for instance point to the essential rhetorical function of art in public spaces: artworks evoke emotions in users of those spaces, activating their capacity for critical judgement and civic agency. This can help create collective consciousness and cultural understanding. In short, they consider these areas as performative spaces: spaces which do not just passively exist to allow people to move through them, but which actively ask people to interact with them and to be participants in a larger whole, as ‘important physical infrastructure[s] of communication’ (quote from p.108-109).
These notions are closely related to theories of ‘placemaking’ employed by scholars in the humanities and social sciences, but also by architects, as a way of understanding how places are shaped by ideologies, mythologies and narratives, as well as by the way they are moved through and interacted with by the people who use them. These discussions go back on the massively influential ‘spatial turn’ inspired by the works of Henri Lefebvre (1974) among others. By considering how spaces are produced by social behaviour, such theories help us consider cultural and historical issues.
Because the Hellenistic Greeks, too, used their shared public spaces as communicative tools. Sanctuaries for instance are exquisitely communicative spaces. The city’s main sanctuary, like the Asklepieion in Kos or the sanctuary of Athena Polias in Priene, was often referred to as its ephiphanestatos topos or ‘most conspicuous place’. The publication clauses in decrees that inform us on where inscriptions were to be set up, often allude to the conspicuous nature of these spaces. Yet sanctuaries were by no means the only communicative spaces in the Greek city, nor were inscriptions always exclusively placed in the city’s epiphanestatos topos, and neither did this most conspicuous place necessarily remain the same over time.
In this part of the research, I aim to find out how public spaces in Kos and Priene were used to bring across messages about connectivity, and how inscriptions helped to shape their character as not just communicative but true cosmopolitan spaces. I will look at what inscriptions were publicised where, explore the dynamics of the remarkable practice inscribing copies of the same decree in multiple cities at once, and investigate how these publication activities changed the character of public spaces over time. In this way, I aim to lay bare the strategies behind how these communicative spaces were employed to send specific messages about, and to actively contribute to, establishing inter-city connectivity.
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