THE Complexity of public space

Public space is complex. Public space plays a crucial role in the quality of urban life. It supports  social and commercial interaction, it contributes to the city image. Is it a place of possibility? Of diversity? To have a little grasp of its complexity watch the interviews below.  

In this interview, Suzanne Hall, underlines the importance of urban spaces as a meeting place. Therefore the importance in belonging to the public realm and not in the private one. 


A free and public space of encounter will experience diversity. Nigel Thrift elaborates upon this idea in the second interview.


In the third one David Harvey reminds us about the political dimension of public space.


Ian Gehl has been studying public space for decades. In this lecture he presents some of the main ideas he developed during his research. 

To start developing an eye for the interaction between the physical environment and people’s life watch this study done by Whyte on the social life of small public spaces. 

Additional resources:

After reading and watching these material think about the following questions: What is your favorite public space in your city? Why? Add your answer in the comment below.

One comment

  1. Tandia Hardcastle says:

    I think my favourite public space in Sydney would have to be the beach. I think in many ways the beach fits the criteria for a good public space described by Suzanna Hall. Suzanne expresses that a public space needs to allow people to interpret and use the space in many different ways. The beach is used for banality, for relaxation, for sports such as volley ball, for recreational activities or personal exercise, it is used for socialisation. People are more friendly to one another at the beach, people are okay being in closer proximity to strangers. People are even comfortable exposing themselves in front of strangers, something most would never do in any other location. This I find very interesting.

    However, now that I think about it i’m not sure if the beach would fit this description of ‘public space’ that we are looking at. I absolutely loved the talk given by Ian Gehl, I felt that he put so many of my feelings towards space into ideas and words. The relationship between the ‘birds eye’ design of a space compared to the consideration of 1:1 detail at 5km hours really struck me. I really struggled to think of many public spaces in Sydney that meet this description. However, in my reflection of some European cities that I have visited the contrast is very evident – particularly in the Spanish city Alicante and the Swedish capital Stockholm. Both cities have the ‘old sector’ and the new city that has expanded around it. On both occasions I found it so much more beautiful and enjoyable to walk around these ‘old cities’ where the streets are for walking and are exactly as Gehl described streets should be.

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