ENTRY #243

Urban Commons – Speakers’ Corner in Every Town by Roland Karthaus


Our proposal is based on the belief that speaking freely is a fundamental necessity of a truly public realm. The UK has a proud history on freedom of expression though our freedom to speak is tempered by the rights of others to protection from serious harm. Recently this has been extended by restrictive legislation: some kinds of speech and public gatherings, ‘anti-social behaviour’, the use of byelaws prohibiting otherwise legal activities, Business Improvement Districts to manage the public space in the interests of businesses, rather than the public. This overall trend is anti-democratic and needs rebalancing.

London’s Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park was itself born out the struggle for civil liberties in Victorian Britain and its establishment was a significant milestone in the development of our democratic institutions. Our timeline illustrates the chequered history of this unique space. With the increasing restrictions and ‘narrowing’ of functions of our high streets, the time is right to establish a speakers’ corner in every town.

Civic Architecture Office and students at the University of East London have been developing a pilot project for London’s second Speakers’ Corner in Croydon together with the Speakers’ Corner Trust and the Croydon Speakers’ Corner Committee. The context is a major planning application for a new Westfield shopping centre which will radically change the nature of Northend shopping street, presenting a unique opportunity for the Local Authority to re-establish a true public realm as part of the area’s redevelopment and we are liaising with Croydon’s placemaking team to progress this. The requirements for a Speakers’ Corner are shown on the diagrams – no further resources are required. The intended outcome is a healthier and more democratic public space that allows for the normal antagonisms, discomforts and disagreements of a legitimate public realm.

Civic Architecture Office at UEL

We are an RIBA Chartered practice, owned by the University, for the training and employment of UEL students and graduates. Run by qualified and experienced Architects, we provide architectural services to community groups, local authorities and private clients who are engaged with civic projects.

Speaker’s Corner Trust

A registered charity promoting free expression, public debate and active citizenship.
We believe that association between citizens and the free, face-to-face exchange of ideas, information and opinions is key to rebuilding trust and participation in community life in Britain and developing vibrant civil institutions and robust rights in emerging democracies

UEL Unit 8

A teaching unit as part of the MArch Architecture (ARB/RIBA Part 2) course at the University of East London, investigating the architecture of politics and specifically the fundamental tenant of democracy that of free speech and open discourse or the idea of open debate.

A Croydon Speakers’ Corner Committee

In January 2014, following extensive consultation and engagement by the Speakers’ Corner Trust representatives of many local organisations came together at Croydon College to establish a Founding Speakers’ Corner Committee with the intention of developing a new speakers’ corner.