Issue 11: Public Spaces

More Ambitious Public Spaces

Cities often neglect public space; we see this in congested downtowns and desolate suburbs. Does it matter? One of my early tasks as a civil engineer in public service involved improving pavements. Singapore wasn’t wealthy and faced many challenges in the 1970s, but we still did this in order to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries. It mattered.

In this issue, Urban Solutions explores the value of public space in our interviews, research and case studies. We see that public space takes many forms, performs many roles and can even transform cities.

Beyond its psychological value—Peter Rowe says it aids self-actualisation—public space can help address pressing challenges like climate change, urban regeneration, safety, social segregation and equity. We can exploit public space in much more ambitious and strategic ways to support cities’ economic, environmental and social agendas. Jan Gehl suggests one way, with his dream of Singapore as the world’s first car-free city.

Where can we start? Traffic is often the biggest challenge to good public spaces. As our case studies and analysis of before-and-after Google Street Views show, cities are now reclaiming space from cars in interesting ways. Developing public space also involves programming and place management. This can involve planning activity-generating functions along streets to make them more walkable, or supporting ground-up events that are meaningful to the community.

Public space is an increasingly exciting and contested topic. When we asked experts about gated communities, privately-owned public spaces or placemaking festivals, we didn’t expect such divergent views! In the absence of clear consensus, how do we move forward? Some ideas recurred across our articles: research, experimentation, collaboration and leadership.

Gehl’s data-gathering methodology, and our own study of Singapore’s Little India, suggest the value of evidence-based approaches to developing public space. Examples from Seoul’s Yonsei-ro to Shanghai and the EcoMobility World Festival demonstrate how experiments can support enduring improvements. Ng Lang advocates collaboration, just as our articles show how places are co-created by mayors, activists, planners, entrepreneurs, judges, designers, researchers, policemen and artists. We also see how leadership drives change and enables risk-taking, as when mayors helped make Chicago’s 606 and New York City’s Hudson Yards a reality.

When deployed with intelligence, care and courage, public spaces can make cities more liveable, sustainable, prosperous and inclusive. We hope this issue helps to equip and inspire you to chart a more ambitious and transformative agenda for your city’s public spaces.


Khoo Teng Chye
Executive Director
Centre for Liveable Cities

Issue 11: Public Spaces
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Interview

JAN GEHL
SINGAPORE AS THE WORLD’S FIRST CAR-FREE CITY

NG LANG
CREATING SPECIAL BONDS WITH PUBLIC SPACES

PETER ROWE
FINDING MEANING IN PUBLIC SPACES

Opinion

VIEWPOINT: KENNIE TING
FESTIVALS BOND PEOPLE TO PLACES MEANINGFULLY

COUNTERPOINT: TAN TARN HOW
THE FESTIVAL EFFECT IS TRANSIENT AND SUPERFICIAL

Illustration

LIBRARIES AS PUBLIC SPACES
NEW CHAMPIONS FOR CIVIC SPACES

ECOMOBILITY WORLD FESTIVALS
ONE NEIGHBOURHOOD, ONE MONTH, NO CARS

PUBLIC SPACE TRANSFORMATIONS
RECLAIMING SPACES FOR PEOPLE

POPOS—PRIVATELY-OWNED PUBLIC OPEN SPACES
SECRETS OF SAN FRANCISCO

Essay

EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACHES TO PLACE MANAGEMENT
FINDING COMMON GROUND IN HISTORIC ETHNIC DISTRICTS
BY GURUBARAN SUBRAMANIAM

DEVELOPMENT ABOVE RAIL YARDS
CITY PLANNING’S LAST FRONTIER
BY MICHAEL KOH & ELGIN TOH

City Focus

SHANGHAI
BRINGING A HUMAN SCALE TO HYPERURBANISATION

Case Study

CHICAGO | THE 606
LINKING UP FOR GREEN AND GOOD

SINGAPORE | BRAS BASAH.BUGIS
BREATHING LIFE BACK INTO BBB

SEOUL | YONSEI-RO TRANSIT MALL
ROAD DIET FOR A MORE ACTIVE STREET

SINGAPORE | REMAKING BEDOK
CRAFTING AND ACTIVATING NEW CIVIC SPACES