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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.85 Santiago dic. 2013

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-69962013000300003 

READINGS

The Legal Figure: "Street"

  

Elke Schlack *(1)

* Professor, Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile.


Abstract

As a structural component of the urban realm, the street is usually taken for granted. A reflection on its very nature, particularly on the first regulations that framed its origin, gives clues about the roles that, in our contemporary reality, the street can take.

Keywords: Urbanism, urban regulations, public domain, public space, state property.


 

Revising the Meaning of the Street from its Legal Definition (1)

The street is much more than the sum of the space of the sidewalk and the road. In functional terms it makes possible something as fundamental as how to urbanize territories to make them accessible (Benévolo, 1993; Parcerisa and Rubert de Ventós, 2000). Moreover, in sociological terms, the street is the spatial device that is closes to public life, that is, the space that offers the possibility of access to all inhabitants and enables their interaction (Weber, 1922).

The functionality and pertinence to the public sector are elemental conditions in the debate on mobility. At the moment of discussing the adaptation of intermodal nodes, over methods of alternative transport, systems of mobility for pedestrians and vehicles, road infrastructure in neighborhoods and even the promotion of alternative transportation methods, the fundamental questions continue to be the same: What do we want to connect or communicate? To whom do we wish to make accessible a certain place within the city?

This article supplies a view of these issues from the perspective of urban legislation, a point of view that opens new questions based on the regulation of the street, a practice that has precedents in Roman and medieval European law. Moreover, the way in which the urban legislation forms the problematic principals (apparently technical) of the street, allows us to revisit it from the fundamental rights essential conditions that constitute is character and role in the city.


The Legal Status of the Street

Firstly, the "street" does not exist as a concept at the level of administrative or civil codes, much less constitutional. At this level, the law conceives the street as a "thing" that, due to its particular condition of being of service to the common interests of the city or territory and under public administration, constitutes a "property" that belongs to "all the inhabitants of the nation" and is referred to as a "national property" in both Chilean and French legislation (Parejo, 1998; Morillo, 1992 and Marienhoff, 1960; cited in Montt 2002). In legal systems, such as Germany, that represent a legal paradigm different to the French (that has great influence in Latin American legislations), the street belongs to "public things" and is constituted as "public domain" (Peine, 2004 and Axer, 1994). This differentiation between "public" and "national" properties is legally relevant and reveals two forms of nominating the owner of the public domain: State and Nation (Montt, 2002). However, beyond this differentiation, the usual in various legal frameworks is that the street be part of the public domain and under the guardianship of public administration.

The street exists as a legal figure in our General Chilean ordinance where it is defined as a "road of any kind of vehicle(2) that communicates with other roads and includes both roads and sidewalks between two private properties or space for public use or between a private property and a space for public use" (Art.1.1.2 OGUC). Also, the Transit Law(3) defines the street, this time according to its users, as an "urban road destined to the circulation of pedestrians, vehicles and animals". (Art. 2 Chilean Transit Law, Law No 18.290 of 1984, modified by Decree No 69 of 2004).


The Figure of the Street in the City

The city is composed of the cohabitation between many people. The street, in this sense, constitutes one of the most relevant spatial devices created to organize the city and make possible the civilized cohabitation among its citizens.

The cohabitation between the citizens of the city constitutes a second legal problem that surrounds the phenomenon of the street. Just as Edesio Fernandes states, in the city "the individual interests of the proprietors necessarily coexist with other social, cultural and environmental interests of other groups and the city as a whole" (Fernandes, 2003, p. 66) 

Conflict in this cohabitation is inevitable, as evidently each inhabitant would wish to have complete freedom to decide how to configure spaces of the city in which he lives, especially those closest to him. In virtue of this problem, in legal terms is prescribed that the law of private property exists, that is, to possess the land and use it for that which is esteemed convenient, but that the freedom of private property will be limited by that which is of "social function." In Chile, the law to property and the social function of this law is established in the Constitución Política de la República, specifically in the article 19 No 24(4) (private property is limited by the social function in the fundamental letters of many countries). The social function refers to all those limitations that the laws impose on the property to promote "the general interests of the nation, the national security, the utility and public health and conservation of environmental patrimony" (AA.VV., 2010).

The social function of property law lies through urban legislation. For example, in the case of the "city statute" published in Brazil in 2001, it is considered to be the function of the municipal government to control the urban development process in which instruments provided and the individual interests of the proprietors coexist with other social, cultural and environmental interests both with other groups and the city as a whole (Fernandes, 2003).

Something similar occurs in German legislation, in which article No 1 of the building and urbanism code Baugesetzbuch (Building Code) define the objectives of the territorial order establishing that regulatory plans must ensure a sustainable urban development that not only responds to social and economical demands and to the protection of the environment today but also responsibly coordinates with the requirements of the generations to come. In this way, the territorial legislation must serve the common good that is destined to guarantee a socially equitable ground use, an appropriate quality of life for the human being, protecting and developing the environment, as well as the urban morphology and landscape in its "built culture" quality (AA.VV., 2010).

The street is one of the urban devices that best exemplifies the "social function" in the sense that to exist it needs the private land to cede space. The continuity of the streets will depend on when urban regulation establishes in the space that it makes available for private property. Edification lines and setbacks have been the limitations that urban regulation has historically used for private property to define a determined street profile.

Limitation of property rights within the regulation of the amount of land devoted to streets in the city is also present. Until now, the expectation of optimal performance for a development had coincided with the mathematical result of required traffic: thirty percent destined to "flow" as defined by Chilean urban planning and construction ordinances(5). However, what happens when the number of cars increases every year, or when new forms of mobility such as cycling gain strength and when the pedestrian takes center stage? All these new ways of moving around the city require more space within the profile of the road and require us to ask how these profiles should be defined by the planning requirements.


The Street is Ours!... Is Everyone's!

That is the title of the Institut pour la Ville en Mouvement initiative that reveals the public condition of the street and stresses the most essential need: to give access to everyone (AA.VV., 2009). It is important to clarify that, in legal terms, the public condition of street use is not necessarily associated to the condition of national property or public domain. Public use has always been legally constituted by a condition independent of property (public or private) and in legal language is called "common use".

In the history of law over the street, its public use condition was present as a legal figure much before the figure of its public domain. This is why the public use of the street is a lawful act that must be explicitly declared even when we speak of public roads or streets in the administration of the State. Common use consists of the right of all inhabitants to access and utilize spaces that are national properties (Álvarez, 1964 and Sánchez, 1997; cited in Montt, 2002). The figure of common use has two historical sources in Medieval Europe. On one hand, its origin is in the collective use of territories and streets pertaining to a form of corporate property. A habitual situation in the middle ages was that a popular road or street whose relevance exceeded the local area was required to be submitted to public use for the transit of people and property even when it was still in the hands of a corporation or private collective. The second source (fig. 1 and 2) is the royal concession of the public use of a street or road (Grote, 1999; Friehe, 1971; and also Santamaría, 1998 and Villegas, 1952, cited in Montt, 2002). The common use emanated from the monarch's authorization is considered as a direct precedent to the current figure of common use. Upon modifying the status of the authority (from royal to the state) this figure maintains its existence to today (Friehe, 1971).

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Figs. 1 and 2. Map and view of Schaumburg old county, Germany. It has been proved recently that in this town, during the Middle Ages, the "common use" figure regulated the public use of its roads.
Sources: http://www. schnadt-web.de/rinteln.htm http://www.histag-schaumburg.de/page/page_ID/1?PHPSESSID=1b87c45d2bb6c6dd869112ed5eeb4321 (last access: August 20th, 2013)

Currently, the legal figure of common use is the expression of public rights and the exercise of this right of personal freedom of man recognized constitutionally (Álvarez, 1964 and Mayer, 1982; cited in Montt, 2002) and constitutes one of the elemental legal figures of the law of the street (Transit Law) (Kodal & Krämer, 1999). Common use, in this context, is a legal concept that relieves the unconditional accessibility for any person as a courtesy that can be demanded by anyone with the purpose of transit and communication (Axer, 1994).

For this common use of the street to have legal validity, there must be an explicit exercise of the public administration to open access to these spaces implying the administrative act of "affectation", an act that determines the existence of a legal regimen of use special utilization and protection (Santamaría, 1998 and Arino, 1973; cited in Montt). The oldest affectation of common use is the "affectation to public use" that refers to the public use of roads, plazas, streets, sidewalks, that is, everything in the Chilean legislation that is national property of public use (Sánchez, 1997 and Forsthoff, 1958; cited in Montt, 2002).

But does the street really belong to everyone? According to observation, the public use of the street enjoys a long legal tradition and legal figures have existed to permit the public use in spaces that were private or collective. And so it is surprising that new forms of street production, like those observed in urban sub-centers such as shopping centers or interior galleries (areas of affluent public dedicated to commerce) have not made use of these legal figures of the past. In history, when the public access of a place has been socially necessary, a "public transit" tax has been instated. This is the figure used repeatedly in Europe to set public access to the main avenues of malls inserted in pedestrian zones, a formula that could be applied for the pedestrian streets of downtown Santiago, Providencia or Concepción in Chile, and maintain their public cultural character that characterize them. The existing figure of "public transit" in German legislation(6) gives the right of transit not only to adjoining terrain, as tends to occur in our local cases, but is offered completely to public transit (Schlack, 2006, 2009 and 2013).


The Street: Between Communication and Transit

Legally speaking, public use is complemented with the explicit disposition that the street is predominantly designated for transit (Montt, 2002; Kodal and Krämer, 1999). This happens both in Chilean legislation and in many other countries.

It is commonly said that the vehicle takes precedent over the pedestrian. In legal terms, this affirmation is formulated with a predominance of the function of displacement (transit) over the function of communication (with communication we refer to the original condition of the street that allows for the interaction between people, be they neighbors, protesters, shoppers or exercisers (fig. 3, 4, 5).

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.

Fig. 5.

Figs. 3 to 5. A multifunctional street space: Winterthur, Switzerland.
Source: photo by the author..

The predominance of displacement over communication is somewhat routine in world legislations. In fact, the road law and transit law place their fundamental focus on aspects of displacement in the street. Not in vain, the function associated with the street is called "circulation". Unlike other legislations, the Chilean legislation only provides the possibility of setting different types of roads in the regulatory plans, but does not allow the possibility of setting non-transit zones or pedestrian zones.

Despite this limitation that arranges uses predominately dedicated to transportation, the inhabitants and the municipalities are pushing ever more for other uses. It is already customary to see the streets closed to vehicles on the weekends and opened for recreational or competitive sports. Also, discussion has begun on how the street profiles must become more complex to give space not only to displacement but also to placement (AA. VV., 2007; Forray, 2013).


Conclusions

The street as an integral device of the individual, the street in its intrinsically public condition and the street in its absent multi-functional condition are the images that allow us to review the legal concepts that define them.

The design of planning regulations puts much into play. Will connection or communication be promoted? Will more or less areas be accessible to the general public? What uses are considered possible in the street? The urban legislation will have to lead with what now is resolved by means of exceptions on the weekend and special permissions: the pedestrian, political and sporting conquest of the street. One must ask themselves to what point is it appropriate to adapt to street that were contemplated for the car and to what point in the future will the profiles, lengths and crossings obey the turning radii of other methods of transportation (en even if the materiality is the most appropriate for joggers). It is also possible that more area is added to the street profiles and that there is sufficient pedestrian traffic to habilitate transfers across private blocks.

The street is an invention of man and it is evident that it has acquired its own life and has developed according to the findings or each time and captured in the regulatory plan: circulations of diverse forms, inter-communal, main lines and local. Street networks with little capacity to establish communication with what is situated on its borders, nor able to undertake the important task of establishing public uses (market, meetings, recreations) that are only possible here and unfeasible on private grounds.

 

Notes

1. This article is based on material elaborated by the author during his doctoral thesis, as well as the investigation financed by FONDECYT Inicio No 11090407 (2009-2011). See Schlack, 2009.

2. Within the multiple kinds of roadways classified in our ordinance are the following: express way, free way, collecting road, service road, local street and interior street (Art. 2.3.2. and 2.3.3, OGUC).

3. According to Chilean Transit Law, the space designated for vehicles is the "road" and that designated for pedestrians is the "sidewalk" (Art. 2 - Transit Law).

4. The constitution assures all people the "right to property of various kinds corporal or incorporal. Only the law can establish the method of acquiring and using the property along with the limitations and obligations that derive from its social function. This includes the demands of the general interests of the nation, national security, public health and utility and the conservation of environmental patrimony (Constitución Política de la República de Chile, 2010).

5. Art. 2.2.5, Ordenanza General de Urbanismo y Construcciones (Chilean General Urban and Building Codes).

6. Public transit is present as one of the types of use possible for setting the regulatory plan within the German urban legislation and is named "Öffentliches Geh- und Wegerecht" (Public Law of Transit and Roads).

 

References

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1. Elke Schlack. Architect, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 1997 and PhD, Technischen Universität Berlin, 2008. She is a member of the advisory boards of Bifurcaciones and EURE magazines. Since 2008 she has curated several symposiums in collaboration with Goethe Institut Santiago having the support of daad; she is member of the research network StaRS (Public Space in between public and private interests) and a FONDECYT-CONICYT researcher since 2009. Currently, she is a faculty member and researcher at Centro de Investigaciones Territoriales y Urbanas CITU of Universidad Andrés Bello and lecturer at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile School of Architecture and its Urban Project Graduate program.

AA.VV. Baugesetzbuch BauGB. [En línea]. 2006. Disponible en: www.juris.de [último acceso: 10 de agosto de 2013]         [ Links ].

AA.VV. Plan regulador de Providencia, Vialidad. Ilustre Municipalidad de Providencia, Santiago, 2007.         [ Links ]

AA.VV. La calle es nuestra. De todos! Ciudad en Movimiento, Bogotá, 2009.         [ Links ]

AA.VV. Constitución Política de la República de Chile. [En línea]. 2010. Disponible en: www.bcn.cl [último acceso: 10 de agosto de 2013]         [ Links ].

ÁLVAREZ, María Eugenia. Naturaleza jurídica del uso común en los bienes nacionales de uso público. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago, 1964.         [ Links ]

ARIÑO, Gaspar. La afectación de bienes al servicio público. Escuela de Administración Pública, Alcalá de Henares, 1973.         [ Links ]

AXER, Peter. "La afectación como concepto clave del derecho de los Bienes Nacionales". ["Die Widmung als Schlüsselbegriff des Rechts der öffentlichen Sachen. Zur Identität des Rechts der öffentlichen Sachen als Rechtsgebiet"]. Schriften zum Öffentlichen Recht Vol. 651. Editorial Duncker & Humblot, Berlín, 1994.         [ Links ]

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FERNANDES, Edésio. "Del código civil al estatuto de la ciudad." EURE Vol. XXIX No 87. Instituto de Estudios Urbanos, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, 2003.         [ Links ]

FORSTHOFF, Ernst. Tratado de Derecho Administrativo. IEP, Madrid, 1958.         [ Links ]

FRIEHE, Heinz Albert. "Derecho y Aministración de caminos en el antiguo condado de Schaumburg". ["Wegerecht und Wegeverwaltung in der alten Grafschaft Schaumburg"]. Archiv für die Geschichte des Strassenwesens Cuaderno 3. Forschungsgesellschaft für das Strassenwesen, Bonn, 1971.         [ Links ]

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GROTE, F. "El Uso Común" ["Gemeingebrauch"]. KODAL, Kurt y Helmut KRÄMER. Derecho vial. Exposición sistemática del Derecho de calles, caminos y plazas públicas. [Strassenrechtsystematische Darstellung des Rechts der öffentlichen Strassen, Wege und Plätze in der BRD] C.H. Beck, Munich, 1999.         [ Links ]

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PAREJO, Luciano. "Dominio Público: un ensayo de reconstrucción de su teoría general". Revista de Administración Pública No 100-102. Instituto de Estudios Públicos, Madrid, 1998.         [ Links ]

PEINE, Franz Joseph. Derecho Administrativo General [Allgemeines Verwaltungsrecht]. C.F. Müller, Heidelberg, 2004.         [ Links ]

SÁNCHEZ, Miguel. Los bienes públicos. Régimen jurídico. Editorial Tecnos, Madrid, 1997.         [ Links ]

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SCHLACK, Elke. POPS - El uso público del espacio urbano. Editorial UNAB, Santiago, 2013.         [ Links ]

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