All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! And boy, we were bored while trapped within our house during the global pandemic. Pandemic was an eye-opener in many aspects that made us realize the importance of public space. In a world of digitalization, it made us crave the urge to socialize and have an in-person connection with others. Public spaces are a place open to all for social inter-mingling.
Public Spaces are not a foreign concept; we all have been there and experienced them. Public space comes in all sizes and shapes! It varies from parks and beaches to eateries and worship places. Humans are highly social-animal and like to stay connected. The concept of public spaces dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman era when agora and forums were the public gathering spaces. In India, the gardens, markets, and worship places are the gathering spaces. Like relaxing in the Mughal gardens or strolling through the crowded streets of Chandni Chowk in New Delhi, or maybe outing to Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad.
Architects are the building blocks of society, responsible for designing public spaces. The soul of a city lies within the streets and public spaces. The city is identified by the opportunities provided to its citizens to interact. As Jan Gehl quotes- “A good city is like a good party — people stay longer than necessary because they are enjoying themselves.”
Catering to the idea of public space in the planning of cities is vital. As proof, let’s take the example of the planning of Chandigarh city by French Architect Le Corbusier. While planning, he focused on pedestrian movement, cycling tracks, parks, and social interaction spaces. Hence, this makes it one of the most liveable cities in India. Another such example is in New York. It is considered a dream city to inhabit. The reason is the opportunity for social interactions. The ever-famous Central Park is one such public space that city planners have planned at the initial design. Amidst all the hustling-bustling streets of New York, Central Park is one such calming and relaxing place for people. While talking about Central Park, how can we forget Central Perk, the wildly famous café from the sitcom FRIENDS. Can we even imagine FRIENDS without those endless hours spent in that café? Central Perk is also a public space that makes us aware of the necessity of public space in our lives.
As the jobs are getting more stressful, green spaces promote better mental well-being. Physical activity in a natural environment helps in reducing depression and physiological stress. As public space gives us a chance to interact and bond, diminishing leads to loneliness and other adverse psychological effects. Thus, as a generation, we are getting involved more in the virtual world to interact and express ourselves.
Architects can play an essential role in re-conditioning the situation. To revoke the feeling of neighborhood and community that urges people to disconnect digitally and connect to the real world.
An architect has the power to live up to a public space. According to William Whyte in his book City: Rediscovering the Center (William Hollingsworth Whyte and Underhill, 2009), “Streets are a place where everyone comes together, and it’s the pathway to the city”. A successful public life is elevated by the optical leverage of aesthetics, interests, and food. Whenever you find a crowded space, the public attraction could be, either an art display or some event or maybe a food stall.
The functioning of a space should not be singular. For instance, offices are flushed with people in the daytime but often get desolated by night. This leads to a dark and shady area that might encourage criminal activities. In turn, architects should try to jazz up the space that could be active all-round the day. The Rockefeller Center in New York is like a high-profile business hub during the day but turns into a community attraction with its skating rink during winter evenings. Quality public spaces not just benefit the people but also benefit the society by decreasing the crime rate and creating a potential to boost the local economy.
The factors contributing to the successful functioning of public life are-
- Accessibility to the Space– No matter how great the design of the public space is, if it lacks visual connection or is hard to navigate gets ignored. Consequently, leads to another failed public space. Thus, creating easy access to the public space will always lure people to visit it.
- Environment of the Space– Imagine being in a park, but there are no seats to sit. Or it is a harsh summer day, and there is no shade. What a waste. People love comfort! If a public space can offer them comfort, it will become popular among them. Public art also creates a sense of a comfortable environment and adds emotion to the space. Landscaping also benefits from creating a pleasing environment.
- Power to socialize– The idea of public space is mainly to help people socialize, and if a space lacks it, then the space fails its purpose. Architects’ design for public space should be interactive, neighborly, and diverse. It should not be gender or age-inclusive public spaces are meant for all and should invite all!
Public space will keep on evolving with time and needs. It is not just a horizontal plane but an experience for our senses. A public space reflects its impact on the neighborhood. In the urban fabric, life does not happen in the buildings, it happens in the spaces between them!
- Anon, (n.d.). Importance of public places in cities – Architecture & more by Square One. [online] Available at: http://squareone.blog/importance-of-public-places-in-cities/ [Accessed 17 Apr. 2022].
- ArchDaily. (2018). Awareness of the Importance of Public Spaces is Increasing—Here’s How We Can Capitalize On It. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/891114/awareness-of-the-importance-of-public-spaces-is-increasing-heres-how-we-can-capitalize-on-it [Accessed 17 Apr. 2022].
- Pacheco, P. (2017). Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Connecting People and the Streets |. [online] TheCityFix. Available at: https://thecityfix.com/blog/public-spaces-10-principles-for-connecting-people-and-the-streets-priscila-pacheco/.
- Jagannath, T. (2018). The Importance of Public Spaces. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/interviews-and-articles-on-art-public-spaces/the-importance-of-public-spaces-5bb49ba6c000#:~:text=Public%20spaces%20are%20an%20important.
- William Hollingsworth Whyte and Underhill, P. (2009). City : rediscovering the center. Philadelphia: University Of Pennsylvania Press.