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The “Sounds of Summer Concert Series” at the University Village shopping center is advertised as “Free Music”. But is it really free? It’s part of the atmosphere; it’s a draw and you’re expected to reciprocate by spending money. So although admission is provided de jure without charge, de facto the cost is hidden. The music is like the trees or the pedestrian atmosphere: A lot of work and money have gone into these things, but not without a greater end goal of maximizing consumer dollars spent per square foot of retail space leased. Providing music, heightening the atmosphere, are just further strategies towards this goal.

What does our public space lose when it’s really private space? There’s a sanitization to it—contrast U Village with nearby public space The Ave (and note the difference in websites: The Ave’s best representation is an entry on a creative-commons-licensed, openly editable, user-created encyclopedia. U Village, while also possessing the requisite Wikipedia entry, puts its best foot forward with the website linked above)—and a hesitancy. We play by different rules when we’re in private space, even outdoor, walkable, could-be-a-village-center private space, because we know it’s not ours.

A related entry is forthcoming.