Here we have a few snap shots of Brighton Promenade in action from 7 June 09.
The promenade as social space concerns itself with movement, surveillance and observation, display and distinction, and the integration of urban space with the sea (the ocean with civilisation).
As suggested by its name stillness is not permitted; only in specified locations can one opt out of movement and more often than not one must leave the promenade in order to be at rest.
The reason for the prohibition on stillness lies in the surveillance and observation which is such a key part of the use of this social space. We use the promenade to watch and be watched and the prohibition on stillness prevents this watching developing into voyeurism. The beach, a temporary space governed by the sea, is the proper site of the voyeuristic on the public shore. The promenade marks the limit of civilisation (i.e. the urban space) and beyond it one enters the realm of nature where the rules of civilisation need not apply.
In this sense the pier and the groins are the ‘strategic embellishment’ of the public shore. It is just that this is a symbolic defence of the space of civilisation rather than a concrete defence of the elite of society.
The main use of the promenade is for leisure and it is this activity that most marks this social space. The various needs of those engaging in leisure are to be met here.
One of the paradoxes of the promenade is its nostalgia and entanglement in its own past. The promenade is a nineteenth century, Victorian, social construct and we know that to be its origin. The promenade thus has the odd quality of being of the past and of now and so it is a key locus of that strangest use of the past, Heritage.
Heritage becomes a part of the whole experience and meaning of the promenade because of the promenades connexion to the Victorian age. The entire social space has the quality of Heritage and so we can expect the Heritage Industry to be found here.
The Victorian origins of the promenade and the presence of the Heritage and Culture Industries in this social space force us to recognise the fundamentally capitalist nature of the promenade. This is to be expected; just as the Arcade was an expression of 19th Century French Capitalist Society so the Promenade was and is an expression of British Capitalist (or one might argue ‘european’ capitalist) society.