The Rethinking Of Public Spaces Cultural Studies Essay

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'Public Space' seems like an obvious and straightforward term, denoting areas where anyone-the public- might go. Yet we use the term not so much to signify everything that is not private space; we use it to imply space that has been deliberately created as a public amenity, space that has some deliberate public use, be it ceremony, recreation, celebration, or commerce. Public space, in this sense, is functional.

Understanding of public spaces, which is focused on the making of places for people. Moreover, it focuses on design as the process of making better places for people than would otherwise be produced. This definition asserts the importance of four themes;

First, it stresses that design is for and about people.

Second, it emphasises the value and significance of 'place'.

Third, it recognises that design operates in the 'real' world, with its field of opportunities constrained and bounded by economic (market) and political (regulatory) forces.

Fourth. It asserts the importance of design as a process.

Peter Buchanan argued that urban design was 'essentially about place making, where places are not just a specific space, but all the activities and events that make it possible'.

The report demonstrates how a strategic approach can be developed to channel resources in a coherent way to transform the built environment. It shows how uncluttered and joined up public spaces can be built to promote civic values and commercial competitiveness, and how public space can bring people together for a positive, shared experience of urban living. Public spaces are those that derive a unique identity from the buildings, structures, and landscaping that encloses them and gives them form. Their identity is also derived from the people that occupy the buildings and spaces and the uses they put to them to. These spaces are of various shapes, sizes and functions. They often include trees and other landscaping, but crucially they are all an integral part of the built form of the city. They perform an architectural function because they relate to surrounding buildings through their design and use.

As building density increases so too does the need for public open space - and the need for considerate neighbours. Public spaces can provide visual relief and recreational open space with a density developed area, and it can also serve to promote standards in public behaviour. If people are to be aware of the complexity and variety of the society they are a part of, and if they are to appreciate notions of civic identity and respect for others, there must be a place where they can occasionally see and experience a diverse cross section of that society. When people can actively participate in life within the public realm, they learn how to conduct themselves within it. This is especially important for developing ideas about citizenship. By simply standing in a lively public space, where different age groups and different members of society are gathered together, there is a shared experience that evokes a positive sense of participation.

If the design, implementation, and management of new public spaces are undertaken through a partnership approach that engages with local people, urban character and social cohesion can be strengthened. These spaces can then contribute to a richer mix of facilities that attract both local people and visitors, and can help to make a city more competitive in attracting mobile investment within the global marketplace.

It is helpful to understand why these spaces have been developed by different communities through history, and to establish the demands that these spaces have been expected to satisfy. Historical analysis can help to establish a theme that such spaces have been developed to address through the ages, such as the need to provide a population with a place for festivals or with a symbolic focal point that reinforces their collective identity. An understanding of the past can often inform the present and indicate how the future mite unfolds.

The people and markets in these vast urban areas are interconnected as never before, especially due to advances in information technology. The spread and mixing of peoples has resulted in cities with people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, ideologies, faiths, and income groups. The results have led to diversity and opportunity - but also to tension and fear. A degree of acceptance between people has been necessary for peaceful coexistence in many cultural diverse urban areas. Perhaps a notion that we have more in common than separating us has supported this. It is often people's identification with a city itself that helps to serve as a bridge between cultural differences.

This can be seen in Beirut in Lebanon, where reconstruction works are providing new public places that are bringing together people who are previously separated by civil war.

Such places reinforce a collective identity and sense of belonging throughout a diverse urban population. The design of public space is especially important in bringing people together and in creating a shared experience of a city. I write about the influence of public space on the cultural life and values of urban society. How well used public spaces can strengthen the collective consciousness of the urban population.

The characters of such spaces are made up of the following design aspects:

Character: a place with its own identity

Continuity and enclosure: a place where public and private spaces are clearly distinguished

Quality of the public reclaim: a place with attractive and successful outdoor areas (i.e. areas which are valued by people who use them or pass through them)

Ease of movement: a place that is easy to get to and move through

Legibility: a place that has clear image and is easy to understand

Adaptability: a place that can change easily

Diversity: a place with variety and choice

The analysis can begin to show how spaces can be developed to model all of these aspects, especially because they contain intensive interactions between people, buildings, and surroundings.


With increasing globalization this trend has intensified. Two countervailing processes are occurring. Large numbers of people are moving from developing countries to more developed regions to obtain better jobs and education and increasingly use the public spaces of the city.

Yet while the macro environment is becoming more diverse because of increased flows of immigrants, differences in local population growth rates, local environments are experiencing increased vernacularization and homogeneity - immigrant enclaves are growing in the city, and gated communities are developing in the suburbs and edge cities. One way, is to make sure that our urban parks, beaches, and heritage sites - those large urban spaces where we all come together - remain public, in the sense of providing a place for everyone to relax, learn, and recreate.


Ulf Hannerz (1996) suggests that the value of diversity is so entrenched in the contemporary discourse about culture that it is difficult to reflect clearly on it. So he offers what he calls his "seven arguments for diversity" to make the point that there are many basic reasons to consider cultural diversity important to our lives. He includes many of the points, arguing that cultural diversity is important because it provides:

The moral right to one's culture, including one's cultural heritage and cultural identity;

The ecological advantage of different orientations and adaption's to limited environmental resources;

A form of cultural resistance to political and economic domination by elites and power asymmetries and a way to counteract relations of dependency;

The aesthetic sense and pleasurable experience of different worldviews, ways of thinking, and of other cultures in their own rights;

The possibility of confrontation between cultures that can generate new cultural processes;

A source of creativity; and

A fund of tested knowledge about ways of going about things. (Hannerz 1996, 56-57)

Attention to cultural diversity also leads to community empowerment, expanded citizenship, and the involvement of people in the governance and maintenance of their neighbourhoods and workplaces.

It expands the notion of individual rights of citizenship to include the survival of one's culture and/or cultural group, and the marking of its importance in the landscape.

Also to add that creativity from cultural contact and interaction flows from cooperation as well as from working out solutions to conflicts and confrontation. Therefore, cultural diversity utilized effectively and honestly, leads to more democratic practises and peaceful relationships between people within a locality especially if all groups are treated equally with respect for their needs, desires, and adequate space and resources for work, home, and recreation.


Public space is the stage upon which the drama of communal life unfolds. The streets, squares, and parks of a city give form to the ebb and flow of human exchange. These dynamic spaces are an essential counterpart to the settled places and routines of work and home life, providing the channels for movement, the nodes of communication, and the common grounds for play and relaxation. There are pressing needs that public space can help people to satisfy, significant human rights that can be shaped to define and protect, and special cultural meanings that it can best convey. These themes to be explored and developed in this report, reveal the value of public space and lay the groundwork for improved design and encourage interactions.

In all communal life there is a dynamic balance between public and private activities. Within this balance, different cultures place differing emphases on public space.

How public spaces can be made to serve human needs, from passive relaxation, through active engagement with others, to discovery of unknown worlds.

Public space will be seen to convey meanings, from those that reinforce personal and group life to those that challenge the accepted world view of the culture and open the mind to new insights.

There are three primary values that guide the development of our perspective: we believe that public places should be responsive, democratic, and meaningful.

Responsive spaces are those that are designed and managed to serve the needs of their users.

The primary needs that people seek to satisfy in public space are those for comfort, relaxation, active and passive enagement, and discovery.

Relaxation provides relief from the stresses of daily life and both active and passive engagement with others promote individual well-being and community.

Public spaces can also be a setting for physically and mentally rewarding activity, such as exercise, gardening, or conversation.

It can be a place for discovery of self or others, a step into the larger world. Visual and physical contact with nature and plants can also result in important health and restoration benefits for people.

Democratic spaces protects the rights of user groups. They are accessible to all groups and provide for freedom of action but also for temporary claim and ownership.A public space can be a place to act more freely than when under constraints of home or workplace. In most settings one can temporarily lay claim to a piece of turf even when one does not own it. Ultimately, public space can be changed by public action, because it is owned by all. In such spaces, people learn to live together.

Meaningful spaces are those that allow people to make strong connection between the place, their personal lives, and the larger world. They relate to their physical and social context. These connections may be to one's own history or future, to a valued group, to one's culture or relevant history, to biological and psychological realities, or even to other worlds.

A continuously used public space with its many memories can help anchor one's sense of personal continuity in a rapidly changing world. By the build-up of overlapping memories of individual and shared experience, a place becomes sacred to a community.

These values can incorporate the public space motivations. For instance, they define "public interaction". visual and environmental motives come into play in satisfying people's need for active engagement , discovery, and meaning. Public space values must grow out of an understanding of why people got o such spaces, how they actually use them, and what they mean to their users overtime.

The existence of some form of public life is a prerequisite to the development of public spaces. Although every society has some mixture of public and private, the emphasis given to each one and the values they express help to explain the differences across settings, across cultures, and across times. The public spaces created by societies serve as a mirror of their public and private values as can be seen in the Greek agora, the roman forum, the new England common, and the contemporary plaza, as well as Canaletto's scene of Venice.

Throughout history, communities have developed public spaces that support their needs, whether these are markets, places for sacred celebrations, or sites for local rituals. Public spaces often come to symbolize the community and the larger society or culture in which it exists. Although there are vast differences in the forms of communal life across societies, public life has been an integral part of the formation and continuation of social groups.

Public places afford casual encounters in the course of daily life that can bind people together and give their lives meaning and power. It also offers relief from the stresses of work, providing opportunities for relaxation, entertainment, and social contact. People can discover new things and learn from others. It has the potential of bringing diverse groups together so that they learn from each other, perhaps the richest quality of a multiclass, multicultural, heterogeneous society. It also serves as a social binder on the scale of a group's history and culture.

We can take encouragement from the increasing consciousness of the value of positive public life experience and the efforts of many to ensure that such opportunities continue and increase. Many recent events have fostered their awareness - the consumer movement, the work of public space activists, and the advocates for parks, local gardens, and other community spaces. It leads to increased beneficial contacts between different cultural groups and greater tolerance and understanding is much to be desired. It is towards a rich, diverse, and open public life that we should be striving.


Against the historical backdrop of public life, public spaces have arisen out of many different forces. Some were the consequences of the creeping encroachment of a society bent on finishing and filling up spaces, especially in urban areas. Some were the products of heterogeneous society with many different needs, interests, and aesthetics. Others were products of a desire for careful planning, whatever the priorities guiding their forms and functions. I define public spaces as open, publicly accessible places where people go for group or individual activities. While public spaces can take many forms and may assume various names such as plazas, malls, and playgrounds, they all share common ingredients. They are formed by at least two different processes. Some have developed naturally - that is an ad hoc way without deliberate planning - through appropriation, by repeated use in a particular way, or by the concentration of people because of an attraction. Each of these results in a place that accommodates people for specific purpose and becomes, over time, a site that people rely on to meet, relax or interact.

These spaces also enable people to connect with others, to affiliate in some way with other people. Some users may seek specific activities hoping or certain that they will be available in a site. These may be bicyclers going to use paths in parks, people going to the beach to sun or swim, or the elderly in search of a bench. The intensity and nature of the activity may vary but there is an expectation that specific experiences will be possible in the place and that particular resources will be available.


People need links to the world, and some are provided by the spaces they inhabit and the activities occurring within these spaces. Public spaces experiences yield meanings that accrue over time, and if these are positive meanings they will lead to connections that go beyond the immediate experience of a setting. Links are established between that place and the life of an individual, links to a valued group, to a whole culture and its history, economics, and politics, or symbolically to the universe or other worlds through a person's biological and psychological reality, through nature, through growth.

"a interactive place is on which, in some way appropriate to the person and her culture, makes her aware of her community, her past, the web of life, and the universe of time and space in which these are contained."

In order for people to see some positive meaning in a place it must resonate with their lives and evoke patterns of use that create bonds with the space. If people see possibilities and share goals with others, their connections to that place will be enhanced. The site will be an evocative one, a place that resounds with the memories and experiences of an individual, a family, a group, or a culture in ways that connect each one to a larger entity, a group memory, or experience.

While important connections can derive from an individual's personal history, they may also stem from the history of a group from an area where connections to other members enhance and shape the experience of a place. Spatial identity is largely a product of social relationships with others. These others may be loosely affiliated groups or cultural, sub cultural, or national ones.

Public space meanings develop when people are able to form root in an area, when settings become important parts of their lives. This occurs when space are well suited to their surroundings both physically and socially, when they support the kinds of activities users desire, and when they engender feelings of comfort, safety, and connections to other people. Individual connections emerge in a number of ways - from a person's life and personal experience, from a tradition of use of an area, and from special events in a place. These bonds are enhanced by the presence of natural elements and design features suggesting connections to the larger universe.



Lownsbrough,H. & Beunderman,J. (2007). Equally Spaced? Public space and interaction between diverse communities. Available:,+we+would+li. Last accessed 15 April 2010.

Brand,J. (2009). Physical Space and Social Interaction. Available: Last accessed 20 April 2010.