The very nature of road running is illustrative of how we are able to move freely through public spaces. Runners move daily through urban and rural environments choosing routes and paths through such spaces, both witnessing and contributing to them as they move through. Road running events in urban spaces such as the one in this case study make interesting use of public space. The space is public and accessible to all – although runners themselves are confined to a designated route; however, over the race course they are given an opportunity to gain an insight into the public spaces of the city. The Florence Marathon is one of the fastest growing marathons in Europe. A relatively new event, established in the 1980s, it is now Italy’s second largest race and boasts over 10,000 participants. The event is organised by a committee and works in partnership with the Florence town council, and Tuscany region. The event boasts a large number of sponsors, including international as well as local businesses. Events such as this make use of public space in a variety of ways. As with most road running events, it is free for spectators to access. Onlookers, tourists, locals and race supporters are at liberty to watch the race, or have the freedom to simply walk the streets of the city as they please. Spreading themselves along the length of the standard 42.195 km marathon course, spectators may choose to position themselves in parks or piazzas as they wish, mingling with non-supporters. Those who are in the city on a non-sporting agenda are still able to witness the cultural sites of the city – while being unavoidably caught up in the atmosphere of the race. For those taking part, the use of public space affords participants the opportunity to marry a cultural exploration with sporting achievement, as the route passes the historic Cathedral Square and over the Ponte Vecchio and into Piazza Santa Croce. At the same time, those tourists who sought a cultural visit to Florence, or everyday locals, may find themselves being engaged in a sports event as they witness the city – potentially engaging new audiences for sport. Similarly, runners who visit the city to compete on a fast course find themselves engaging in a cultural experience that they may not otherwise have had.
1. Athletes entering the marathon must pay an entry fee to take part in the event. Spectators pay no fee to line the route. Does this have an impact on the democratic nature of the event?