McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams

With Reference to Both Streets and Squares, Discuss the Importance of Enclosure Design of Public Places

A major characteristic of all cities in the world, at any time in history, is the distinction between the public and private spaces.  An individual's freedom within the city is determined by the management of space with the city, which in turn affects the patterns of spatial behaviour. The main way of organising space is to define some as private and others as public. Unlike private spaces, public spaces by definition are expected to be open to everyone, and thus have fewer restrictions on their uses. In recent years most of the focus on urban design has centred on the creation and development of public places in our cities. City authorities around the world have accelerated a campaign of improvement of public spaces. Debate has raged over concerns about the privatisation of public space (e.g. Punter, 1990) and various ways in which this space can be developed (see Tibbalds, 1992). This essay intends to explore the development of the public place, its changing nature and significance, specifically the reoccurring importance of the enclosed design of public spaces. How has the nature of the organisation of urban streets and squares changed over time? Why are these kinds of public places so important to urban design? To answer this, the essay will draw on specific case studies and analyse the respective literature. From this a conclusion will be formed in order to determine the importance of these design features.

Much of what lies beyond privately owned property could be considered to be public space. These spaces often have different shapes and functions. The narrow streets that encourage people to pass through them as quickly as possible are quite different from the wide public squares that encourage people to stop and look around. But together these two polar opposites make up the public places of the city. In the nineteenth century Camilo Sitte argued that the public squares of his day were little more than an empty space formed by four streets meeting each other (Sitte, 1886). After an extensive study into the organisation of many European cities, he made some fundamental conclusions about the public spaces within a city should be arranged. Sitte argued that in the case of a public square, the most important factor was that it be an enclosed space that offered only a limited view from any point within it (Ibid.). There is a need to keep the centre of square empty and free of anything that might compromise the relationship between the square and the buildings that surround it. However, the modernist approach to design has often contradicted Sitte's attitudes to urban space.

Urban society is threatened by the increased social polarisation and segregation found in the modern city. This is made evident by the expansion of the suburbs and the resulting inner-city decay. The general trend of social trend has resulted in the weakening of state control, meaning that urban development has favoured the private sector. The combination of increasingly privatised space and the alleged social fragmentation presents a potential threat to the future of the city. Urban designers have attempted to counter this problem by promoting the idea of public space as a means of social integration and community cohesion. This works well with the change in the economic makeup of the city, from the industrial base of the past to the service based economy of the present.

Throughout the course of history, the urban public space has usually played a vital role in the social life of its inhabitants. However, in the modern age they have lost the significance that once defined them. This is due mainly to technological change, a growth in population and the specialisation of activities. Space has become a commodity and this combined with stratification of society has led to increased segregation and privatisation of public space. If one were to treat design as merely an exercise in aesthetics it would be in line with marketing the cities and bring economic attention to these areas. Urban designers have therefore moved to promote spatial enclosures that are positively defined and that can accommodate a wide range of people and activities. Creating spaces like this would be a positive step toward the reduction of conflicts that have arisen from the contradicting uses of urban space, thus leading to a more tolerant and socially cohesive city.

Related Links
To Top