Public space

Public space

A public space refers to an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants discriminated based on background. Non-government-owned malls are examples of 'private space' with the appearance of being 'public space'.

Public Space has also become something of a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geography, visual art, cultural studies, social studies and urban design. Its relevance seems to become more pressing as capital encloses more and more of what were thought of as 'commons'. The term 'Public Space' is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as 'gathering place', which is an element of the larger concept.


Areas of usage

Most streets, including the pavement are considered public space, as are town squares or parks. Government buildings, such as public libraries and many other similar buildings are also public space. However, not all state-owned buildings fall under such a definition.

Some parks, malls, waiting rooms, etc, are closed at night. As this does not exclude any specific group, it is generally not considered a restriction on public use. Entry to public parks can be restricted based upon a user's residence. [ [ Foothills Park closed to non-residents] ]

In Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland, all nature areas are considered public space, due to a law, the "allemansrätten" (everyone's-right).

Related rights

In the United States, one's presence in a public space may give him or her certain rights not otherwise vested. In a public space, known as a public forum, the government cannot usually limit one's speech beyond what is reasonable (that is, screaming epithets at passers-by can be stopped; proselytizing one's religion probably cannot). In a private—that is, non-public—forum, the government can control one's speech to a much greater degree; for instance, protesting one's objection to medicare reform will not be tolerated in the Pentagon. This is not to say that the government can control what you say in your own home or to others; it can only control government property in this way. In some cases, privately-owned property can be considered a public forum. England, too, has a tradition of public spaces permitting public speech, at Speakers' Corner, for example.

In general, there is no expectation of privacy in a public space.

Eating and drinking in an outside public place during Ramadan in an Islamic country is sometimes not appreciated.

Public spaces are attractive for budget tourists and homeless people, especially those that are relatively comfortable, e.g. a shopping center that provides shelter and, in a cold climate, is heated (or cooled in a hot climate).

Controversy and Privatization

Whilst it is generally considered that everyone has a right to access and use public space, as opposed to private space which may have restrictions, there has been some academic interest in how public spaces are managed to exclude certain groups - specifically homeless

cite web
publisher=National Coalition for the Homeless
title=Illegal to be Homeless

] people and young

cite journal
last = Malone
first = K
title = "Children, Youth and Sustainable Cities"
journal = Local Environment
volume = 6
issue = 1
url =
] people.

Measures are taken to make the public space less attractive to them, including the removal or design of benches to restrict their use for sleeping and resting, restricting access to certain times, locking indoor/enclosed areas. Police forces are sometimes involved in moving 'unwanted' members of the public from public spaces. In fact, by not being provided suitable access, disabled people are implicitly excluded from some spaces.

Further, beginning roughly in the 1960s, the wholesale privatization of public space (especially in urban centers) has become a fact of western society, and has faced criticism from citizen groups such as the Open Spaces Society. Private-public partnerships have taken significant control of public parks and playgrounds through conservancy groups set up to manage what is considered unmanageable by public agencies. Corporate sponsorship of public leisure areas is ubiquitous, giving open space to the public in exchange for higher air rights. This facilitates the construction of taller buildings with private parks; accessible only to those deemed fit. In one of the newer incarnations of the private-public partnership, the business improvement district (BID), private organizations are allowed to tax local businesses and retail establishments so that they might provide special private services such as policing and increased surveillance, trash removal, or street renovation, all of which once fell under the control of public funds and thus public interests. Clearly these services are necessary; the methods by which they are provided can be debated but not their ultimate utility. Additionally, public areas facilitate public interaction, and their existence can scarcely be questioned in democratic states; we may debate how they are provided, but to question their utility would seem to question our basic rights. Privatization of public amenities should not go unnoticed, whether in this form or the tacit co-opting of sights and sounds known as advertising.

'Semi-public' spaces

A broader meaning of public space or place includes also places where everybody can come if they pay, like a café, train, movie theater or brothel. A shop is an example of what is intermediate between the two meanings: everybody can enter and look around without obligation to buy, but activities unrelated to the purpose of the shop are not unlimitedly permitted.

The halls and streets (including skyways) in a shopping center may or may not be declared a public place and may or may not be open when the shops are closed. Similarly for halls, railway platforms and waiting rooms of public transport; sometimes a travelling ticket is required. A public library is also more or less a public place. A rest stop or truck stop is a public space.

For these semi-public spaces stricter rules may apply than outside, e.g. regarding dress code, trading, begging, advertising, propaganda, riding rollerskates, skateboards, a Segway, etc.


Typical differences between a public space and a private space are illustrated by comparing sitting on a public bench and sitting on a seat in a sidewalk cafe:

*In the first case, usage costs nothing, in the second it requires a purchase to be made.
*In the first case, there is no time limitation (though loitering laws might apply), while in the second, money has to be spent at certain intervals.
*In the first case, one is allowed to consume brought-along food and drink (alcohol consumption laws may restrict this), in the second case, this is usually prohibited.
*In the first case, only general laws apply in terms of dress (such as prohibition of public nudity) and other aspects of public decency, in the second, stricter rules (such as a prohibition of being shirtless) may apply.



* 1. Illegal to be Homeless. National Coalition for the Homeless (2004).
* 2. Malone, K. "Children, Youth and Sustainable Cities". Local Environment 6 (1).
* 3. "Conclusions of the International Seminar on the Planning of Collectively-Used Spaces in Towns", in: "Monumentum" (Louvain), Vol. 18-19, 1979, pp. 129-135.

ee also

* Busking
* Enclosure
* Guerrilla gardening
* Principles of Intelligent Urbanism
* Public indecency
* Public display of affection
* Public art
* Public nudity
* Street photography
* Toronto Public Space Committee
* Urban design

External links

* [ European Archive Of Urban Public Space]
* [ A paper of Setha Low about the transformation of public space in Latin America]
* [ The Open Landscape Institute (OLI), Israel]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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