What defines the character of a city is its public space. Public places affect the image of urban communities and are vital for urban culture and city life. Urban areas are primarily a blend of communities living together. They present various examples with different levels of the social hierarchy. From the historic times, public spaces have been the city centres and played a vital role for people and its city.
The physical aspects of public spaces have been an important asset be it in the form of open plazas, market squares, or spaces between buildings, which has always hosted a wide range of socio-economic and recreational functions. Public spaces are part of cities that express identity. It is the vitality of spaces that attracts people.
The quality of space reflects the sense of community within the neighbourhoods. Today with the increasing globalization and the urban sprawl in cities led to the decentralization of urban functions i.e. the city centres which act as public spaces are losing their primary and central functions. The city’s focus and identity are shifting towards the areas with private spaces along with all the high-tech amenities. Today, Public spaces are no longer ‘public’. The city parks and gardens with rules and regulations policies along with the usage of space.
The changing character of the spaces and the desires of the citizens had also led the public spaces into the hands of privatization. Across the world, parks, gardens, and promenades – which were once in the hands of public usage – are coming under the control of private authorities. They lack the main constituents of public open space i.e.
Accessibility to all and thus have an impact on the city’s social life and character. Unfortunately, few of today’s public spaces adequately prioritize this mission. These changing natures of public spaces are in turn affecting the city centres and its neighbourhood. Public spaces have been limited to a defined boundary which creates incremental shifts in the usage and degree of accessibility.
The idea of what constitutes a public place should be extended to include the quality and character of neighbourhoods to the city, so did the ways to counter the human experience. Thus the questions about how to activate a public space became crucial and the role of public space in transforming cities became evident and vital.
The challenge here is to develop spaces that will help to build cities that are supportive and functional and will also be able to adapt to the undergoing changes. This research explores the possibilities, using the public realm as a tool to enhance social integrity and public interactions, through an intricate connection between place and people to develop a sense of belongings.
The importance of public space is often misunderstood only as a recreation space but rather these spaces are potential city growth generators and they often end up being cities’ most valuable land. Public spaces should be viewed as an essential help, with a similar need as transport, water, shelter, and sanitation which government & communities often considered the basic asset. These distinctions in thoughts and actions offer Identity to the neighbourhood.
The open spaces are therefore changed to break the limits of economic contrasts and by and large remain as spaces for the exchange of thoughts. The public space shapes public life in cities and affects everyday city life practices. Thus the benefits could be multi-fold and can be retained in various domains of urban growth and transformation i.e. economic vitality via empowering local communities, improved quality of life, and environmental sustainability.
First Published in Between Architecture and Urbanism on October 19, 2021.
About the Author
Manoj Parmar, Architect and Urban Designer.