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.


  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.

  2. Giacomo says:

    My favourite place in Newcastle (UK) are the internal alleys of Grainger Market (I might be cheating a little bit since it is actually an internal space). The reason I like it is that it has all the good quality of a street: a diversity of privately owned shops, possibility of doing different activities (buying, just strolling, seating at a cafe or simple at a bench). It gathers a diverse range of people of different age, social class and culture. It is open 6 days a week and its access is not filtered by guards and therefore acting as a true public space.
    Due to this facility of access, it is very well connected with the surrounding streets.
    Unfortunately markets like this are disappearing for mall like and superstore which have very diverse character, ownership and regulations.

  3. Mary Soklinda says:

    My most favorite public space in Phnom Penh would have to be Riverside park which located in front of Royal Palace! I would describe it one of the most lively place where people gather around and is accessible to all the people regardless of genders, social-levels, cultures and ages! The reason I choose it as my favorite because it provides people many opportunities to come together and engage with one another, to relax, excercise and to enjoy oneself. Beside from being a place for people to come together to do different leisure activities including exchange ideas, cycling, jogging, bird feeding and boat ride, it’s also a place for economic trades where you can find different varieties of delicious foods and drinks (from street food trucks and carts to indoor restaurants and rooftop skybars). All in all, I found it as a very relaxing place for everyone especially for me as a student, since I would often go there after class or just to relief stress, sightseeing, and hanging around with my friends.

  4. Sekuan Phou says:

    My favorite public space in Phnom Penh has to be Olympic Stadium. This is one of the places that people of all ages gathers in the evening after a long hard working days at work or school. If you talk a stroll around the place you would find people do all kinds of activities, including jogging, doing aerobic, cycling, eating, and many other sport activities. The stadium is very to access as it’s located in the center of the city and the parking fee is pretty cheap.

  5. Molika Narin says:

    My favorite public space in Phnom Penh would have to be Wat Botum park where it located on Oknha Sour Srun Street7, Phnom Penh the south of the Royal Palace. There are many reason Wat Botum park fit perfectly for a good public space. This area is a place I like to go when I want to relax and get some fresh air. Moreover, it’s a obvious place of escaping the constraints of life around us. In addition, Wat Botum park is the open area that allow all kind of people and there’s no entrance fee. It’s better to visit in the morning or in the evening with all kinds of activities going on like some old people usually do dancing exercise and it’s very interesting. This is a really well-maintained park with a children’s play area and it has play park on one side for children. Some people go for running. Mostly in the evening many of people especially teenagers, they come just to get something to eat and this place got the best idea with many street food around there that you can enjoy the view while eating. Some people come there for skateboarding. Lastly people come from another different area can meet and get know with each other. All of these, I found it as the most very relaxing for everyone and for me since I often visit there with my friends to relief stress and especially for food.

  6. Stephania DEAR says:

    My favorite public space in my city is the Olympic National Stadium. It locates in just 2.4km from my university. Thus, it’s quite easy for me to access there. As it is a National Stadium, there’re so many things to do and sports to play, also. There, you may probably see people play badminton, football, volleyball, and tennis as well. Moreover, you may see people walking, reading, sitting and relaxing to get their stress out. I’d say, it’s the best place for me to relax because, besides all these activities, the place also provides me fresh air from the big green grass field and plenty of trees. (it is a stadium which was built by using massive of earthwork and digging up 500, 000 cubic meters of earth). In my stressed day, I often go there with my friends. We often have a good time there, sitting on a bench, eating and dancing until the night time. Spending Time there is a life-saving from the very busy and stressful works to a lively place. To sum up, the Olympic Stadium is my favorite place to relax ever.

  7. Techchhay Tang says:

    My favorite public space in Phnom Penh would be King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial Place. For cambodian people King Norodom Sihanouk is our hero and our Spirit. Since he passed away, they have built this place in an honor of his presence and all of his achievements. The reason that I choose this place as my favorite because this is one of the place that rather than people come to pay respect for our former king, it’s also an open space where people of all age come together to relax and also to perform different kinds of activities such as like jogging, cycling, and walking, eating and talking to one another!

  8. Moeung Manith says:

    My most go to and favorite public space would be the river front located in Diamond Island (Koh Pich). I chose this location because it’s a free entry place and it is also a place where i like to go and get some fresh air, meeting up with my friends in the weekend. There are so many activities in that river front where you can see people exercise, jogging, people are having a great time with family and friends. Just by getting this kind of view brings me joy and delighted on how peaceful and developing Cambodia is. Moreover you can also catching a stunning view of the sunset, plus the Mekong River itself.

  9. Sonah SEANG says:

    My favourite place in Phnom Penh is Wat BotomVatey Playground. This is a small but popular playground within the lengthy park running from Wat Botum to Sihanouk Blvd. Playground entrance at the Wat Botum end of the park. Nice place, with plenty of rides for kids to have fun. For adults, however, it is nice to see that playgrounds are also appreciated in different cultures. There are some benches under big trees where you can take a rest before you move on to adjacent Wat Botom.This large playground has a big variety of safe play equipment for all ages. It is well maintained and cleaned regularly. There are lots of shaded areas for parents and children to relax and eat. There is a small convenience store to buy cold drinks and lots of venders outside as well. Not to much background noise and occasionally you will hear monks chanting from across the road at Wat Botum. Especially it is very near my university that take not almost five minutes from there. In conclude this is the place that connect people from different places to come to relax and socialize after a whole busy and stressful day after work or study .

  10. Ratanakvisal Oum says:

    My all time favorite public space in Phnom Penh would be Wat Phnom Historical Site. Finding a spot where you feel like stepping into another realm of tranquility in this chaotic city is not easy but this place is an oasis in the center of the city. Despite being a little bit small, it is rich in history and offer a wonderful promenade under big trees while the surrounding urban fabrics are the highrise buildings coexist with the colonial ones dating back to hundred years ago. Benches, playground, open air stage, fountains, cafés, a buddhist monastery bring together people from young to old everyday and also host annual Khmer new year celebrations with local made products, dance party, traditional games and so on.

  11. Sarin Sovannrith says:

    My favorite place in Phnom Penh is independence monument park .It display many statue of our ancestor and it is a public park . The park have many open area that suit for variety of activity like biking ,running ,relaxing ,other sport ,etc. The park is very easy to find ,it in the east direction of independence monument. People like to go there on the day off and after work to relieve stress .It is very crowded on holiday like water festival ,new year and most holiday. It provide a public space for people together and celebrate their holiday like celebrate new year( court down ) for example .And it also is a quiet attractive land mark for visitor too.

  12. Pov Sonita says:

    I think my favorite public space is Wat Botum Park which is located on Samdach Sothearos Blvd . I considered it as my favorite public place because it contains big land along with trees and greenery grass that create more opportunities for people to gathering and do multiple activities there more often. Wat Botum Park is not only a greenery park , it’s also contain the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship monument , the Golden Stupa which commemorating who passed away in a terror attack in 1997 , and the golden swan statue, which could remain the visitor about the historical that has happened in Cambodia as well . Moreover, the visitor can also do sightseeing , walk their pets and relaxing watching the sunset in the evening as well . On the other hand , we can also find many tasty street foods there as well as the delicious and acceptable local foods too.
    All in all , I found that Wat Botum park is one of my favorite go public place since it’s considered as a relaxing and refreshing place for all the people .

  13. Chhan Vannsomani says:

    My favorite public space in Phnom Penh would be Kdan pi, which is located in front of the Ministry of Council. Kdan Pi is the public place where I have been to the most because it’s near the place where I used to live. It’s a suitable space where people can do many recreational activities. In the early morning, elderly people tend to go there to do exercises, jogging, yoga, and also dancing. In the evening, more and more people would start to gather around the park, especially students from nearby schools as they come here to relax after a long, tiring day. Besides, lots of plumeria trees can be seen around the park that contribute to the relaxing environment.

  14. Chhan Vannsomani says:

    My favorite public space in Phnom Penh is Kdan Pi park, located in front of the Office of the Council of Ministers on Russian Federation Boulevard. It is where I have spent most of my free time because it’s near my old house. It is a small park yet it allows many different activities for the community. In the early morning, elderly people like to go there doing exercises, jogging, yoga, and dancing. Usually, in the evening, it’s packed with so many people from small children to the elderly and since there are many schools around the park, you can also see a lot of students going there after school, to relax and enjoy their late afternoon snack next to street food trucks. There is also plenty of plumeria trees that give a very pleasant smell throughout the season, which helps people feel refreshed and forget about their stressful day for a while.

  15. Siribut Mourn says:

    My favorite public space in Phnom Penh would be the landscape inside the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Since people can freely walk inside the university, so everyone can go inside the university. There are places for playing sports, café for students, some facilities like the Cambodia Japan Cooperation Center which we can taste some Japanese food, etc. But what most special to me are the New Khmer Architecture buildings located there.

  16. admin says:

    Thank you for sharing your ideas!

    I think we can summarize some of the quality that were mentioned for a good public space:
    ACCESS: needs to be within reach, free.
    PROVIDE THE POSSIBILITY OF SOCIAL ACTIVITIES. The place you mentioned function as meeting points.
    PROVIDE THE POSSIBILITY OF OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES:sightseeing, resting in the shadow
    How can these places be designed to support all these activities?

  17. Donna Helm says:

    My favourite space in Sydney would have to be the Iron Cove walk. The walk around the cove is approximately 7kms long and has space for walkers, runners and bike riders to exercise together. Along the way, there are multiple stop-off points that surround the walkway such as playparks, BBQ facilities, sporting fields, cafes, picnic areas, dog parks, & landscaped scenery.
    Within this public space, there is a large rock that I climb up onto and overlook the water, reflecting and listening to its surrounds. On either side, below the rock, there are two small beaches that dog owners through sticks into the water for their dogs to collect. I find this place to be particularly relaxing as you can sit quietly surrounded by people or you can interact with all people/beings. The facilities cater to a wide variety of usage, however, do it in a manner that is complementary to the natural environment.

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