What kind of public spaces are successful?
What kind of public spaces are successful?
Before turning to how to assess the effectiveness of a quality public space, it’s important to note that public space is an area or place that provides access to all members of the community or the wider public. Therefore, public space is usually assessed whether it is positive or negative through its design and maintenance. However, if the quality of public space is to be assessed a more comprehensive guide should be included, for example, the basic characteristics of public space as described by researchers, such as Kohn (2004), are “ownership, accessibility and intersubjectivity”. This may to a certain extent provide a reference for identifying a high-quality public space.
In terms of ownership, public space could be somewhat differentiated into publicly owned public spaces, such as streets and squares, and privately owned public spaces, such as shopping malls and coffee shops. Communal public space, which has no relation to identity, nationality or political orientation, it could provide a place for the public to freely express their ideas as can be seen in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1 – People are gathering in Trafalgar Square in London to express their opinions.
As Dovey (2016) highlights, a public place which provides a high degree of freedom and rights to its citizens is to a large extent a symbol of strength and civility. While privately owned public spaces appear to provide more places for social activities, as Varna and Tiesdell (2010) describe one of the values of public spaces is to provide places for “social interaction, intermingling and communication”. As a result, positive and high-quality environmental conditions play a significant role in this kind of public space, and as Gehl (2011) emphasises the social activities that participate in it depend to a large extent on the surrounding environmental conditions (Fig. 2).
Fig.2 – A positive atmosphere in a public space could promote socially active behaviour.
On the accessibility aspect, whether it’s good or bad determines how much effort the public would have to expend to get into the space. The first is the location of the public space, which is usually more accessible when located in the urban core, Porta and Latora (2008) describe that the movement tracks of the public are more easily overlapped in the core of the city. Moreover, positive legibility is a significant element of a quality public space as well. This is because it provides a clear indication of where people should move, which in turn guides their movement. As Varna and Tiesdell (2010) point out, an obvious gateway could guide people’s way forward to a large extent. Furthermore, visibility is an important element as well. This means that public spaces that are more visible would primarily be used more frequently, which is largely consistent with Jacobs’ (2011) proposal of the concept of “eyes on the street” which is one of the significant elements of community safety.
The intersubjectivity aspect is to a large extent about how the design supports and fulfils people’s requirements in the public space and whether it is used and shared actively by different communities. As researchers, Ho and Lee (2012) note “intersubjectivity is a state of being which participants anticipate reaching”. Consequently, the design of public space should be human-centred, as Carr et al. claim that human requirements are the primary consideration in the design of public space (as cited by Varna and Tiesdell, 2010). Additionally, the management and maintenance of the space should be included. This is because positive ambience is one of the most important elements of a quality public space. As researchers Zhang and He (2020) describe, if a place tolerates crime, in practice it is not considered to be a positive public place. As a result, the four key public space management tasks, as emphasised by Lynch, K. and Carr, S. (1996), include controlling harmful activities, increasing tolerance, differentiating functions and providing ‘marginal places’.
Overall, the assessment of the quality of public space should be multidimensional and not just recognised in terms of design and management but also include more specific elements such as ownership, accessibility and intersubjectivity, as they relate to almost all aspects of the site’s purpose, function, design, environmental conditions, and management. These are significant elements for creating a high-quality public space.
List of Figures
Fig. 1 – People are gathering in Trafalgar Square in London to express their opinions. Take from: BBC (2022), Russians join Ukrainians in Trafalgar Square to condemn invasion. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-60546508.
Fig. 2 – A positive atmosphere in a public space could promote socially active behaviour. Take from: Jagannath T. (2016), The Importance of Public Spaces. Available at: https://medium.com/interviews-and-articles-on-art-public-spaces/the-importance-of-public-spaces-5bb49ba6c000.
List of References
Dovey, K. (2016). Urban Design Thinking: A Conceptual Toolkit. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 9-16. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474228503.ch-001.
Gehl, J. (2011). Life between buildings: using public space. Washington: Island Press.
Ho K. L. and Lee C. (2012). “The Quality of Design Participation: Intersubjectivity in Design Practice”. In International Journal of Design, 6 (1). Available at: https://www.ijdesign.org/index.php/IJDesign/article/view/749/404.
Jacobs, J. (2011), “The uses of sidewalk: safety”. In R.T. LeGates and F. Stout The city reader. 5th ed. Abingdon, New York: Taylor & Francis Group, pp. 105-109.
Kohn, M. (2004) Brave new neighborhoods: the privatization of public space. New York: Routledge.
Lynch, K. and Carr, S. (1996). “Open space: freedom and control”. In T. Banerjee and M. Southworth (ed.) City Sense and City Design: Writings and Projects of Kevin Lynch, pp. 413 – 417. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Porta, S. and Latora, V. (2008). “Centrality and cities: multiple centrality assessment as a tool for urban analysis and design”. In T. Haas (ed.) New Urbanism and Beyond: Designing Cities for the Future, pp. 140 – 145. New York: Rizzoli International.
Varna, G. and Tiesdell, G. (2010). “Assessing the Publicness of Public Space: The Star Model of Publicness”. In Journal of Urban Design, 15(4), pp.575–598. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13574809.2010.502350.
Zhang, X. and He, Y. (2020). “What Makes Public Space Public? The Chaos of Public Space Definitions and a New Epistemological Approach”. Administration & Society, 52(5), pp.749-770. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0095399719852897.