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
Centre for Liveable Cities