Our built environment’s heart/core is its urban places. However, increasing urban expansion has resulted in a more significant drop in the share of open areas, especially in metropolitan centres. The ever-increasing need for urban structures and pavement has harmed the physical environment to the point that the spatial pattern has grown more fragmented and undefined, making the city less humanistic.

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Barcelona Superblock Model_©https://www.barcelona.cat

During the pre-industrial period, urban areas permitted everyday contact, sociability, and trade, making them a key component in giving each city its own identity. In both developed and developing nations, current urbanization has led to substantial variations to public space following the industrial revolution. There are three key themes in urban space transformation: 1) fragmentation of the urban fabric and degradation of public space, 2) privatization of public space, and 3) revitalization of such areas.

Following WWII, numerous approaches were implemented across industrialized countries to execute housing and transportation developments. The necessity to handle traffic, as well as the shift toward zoning restrictions, caused significant divides in the urban environment, contributing to the fragmentation of the urban fabric and affecting the public realm. As a result, they lost their traditional significance as gathering areas for the general people. A second element that influenced the character of public open spaces and contributed to their degradation was the undermanagement of the city’s vast array of public spaces, which not only hindered sociability but also constituted a public burden that continues to be a liability on urban society.

Open space isn’t something that everyone thinks about regularly, even though it influences most of how we lead our lives — where do we cross the road? Do we have any sidewalks? What is the location of your nearest public park or plaza? For people who do not have private open space (apartment/condo residents, the homeless), public space is the only place they may travel, walk their dog, have a day out, or simply enjoy like the rest of their society.

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Streetscape as Open Space for the public_©Pinterest

Open spaces in the past

Previously, open spaces were viewed as the huge, far-reaching, non-specialized area that allowed for a wide range of activities on market days, Sundays, and festivals, in addition to the regularity of working days. These spaces were utilized by the surrounding communities as temporary marketplaces, occasional playing fields, seasonal ceremonial locations, occasional political gatherings, and, of course, regular public venues, servicing not just the community’s social, religious, or civic life, but also its minimal economic structure.

Many instances of how this differentiation emerged can be found in history: in Greece and the Middle Ages, for example, there was already a clear division between religious and civil urban places. On the other hand, Roman city planning established the notion of the Forum as a location that combined religious and civic activity in small and medium-sized towns. This notion was also advocated throughout the Renaissance.

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Evolution of Public spaces_©Pinterest

The Present condition

Narrow streets serve as a kind of transition area between the private realm of the dwelling and the public domain of the street, where neighborhood interactions can take place on a more personal social scale and access is governed by informal social rules. The primary activity nodes (places of worship, market stalls, etc.) created for open spaces are located on streets with a high level of integration, i.e., the global network. 

The street layout in the planned city is comprehensible (the public network is obvious to users) and hence accessible. This ease of memorizing has resulted in transit shortcuts, which are a major source of traffic today. Informal dwellings in modern developing nations, which account for a majority of the world’s largely driven urban area, have forced vehicles to share streets with a wide range of social, recreational, and commercial activities caused by a lack of designated open space.

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Manhattan High Line_©Rick Darke / Timber Press

To state an example of New York City’s Central Park, which appears to fit nicely into the Parks & Gardens category on a city-level scale. Close inspection reveals that Central Park contains a wide range of spaces, including systemically landscaped grounds, recreational play areas, and courts, streets used for transportation and recreation, semi-wild forest land, parking facilities, grey space plazas, and alienated space next to fences.

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Central Park: A green oasis_©orangewalkabout

Any debate on the future of public spaces must unavoidably begin with a look back at the history of values and symbols associated with urban open spaces over the last century. In the second half of the nineteenth century, most large cities in America—first Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, and later Buffalo, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, and Rochester—acquired huge areas of land in the city and converted those into significant urban parks or recreational systems.

Kevin Lynch (1972) stated these questions many decades ago: “How open are our open spaces?” Are they physically as well as mentally accessible? Are they largely available and accessible by the user? In an urban area, are they shared evenly or equitably? If they aren’t, are they all genuinely democratic or public?

It is anticipated that sixty percent of the world’s population would reside in urban areas by 2030. At various moments, city development agencies have consistently focused on creating additional regions at the city perimeter to sustain the growing population, pushing the city borders more outward from the center. The neglect of the central core, on the other hand, grows more acute with each outward expansion of the city limit.

Open spaces in the future

Designers of public open spaces do not give enough thought to the differences between specialized and flexible venues. Motivated by our century’s ‘functional mindset,’ designers prefer to specialize, even overspecialize these areas. This is particularly obvious in underdeveloped nations because most people still have access to flexible, multi-functional public open areas. There has been a movement toward contemporary, efficient, and profitable land uses, as well as activities that create a lot of traffic.

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Redevelopment of public spaces_© futurearchitectureplatform.org

Several open space norms were created half a century ago as standards and input requirements rather than performance requirements that may lead to innovative solutions involving both the public and private sectors. Those outdated norms should be rewritten by planners.

Open spaces might operate as urban acupuncture (a term created by Barcelonan architect and urbanist Manuel de Sola Morales), easing tightness in a specific area. Numerous activities, such as political, cultural, religious, recreational, tourism, commercial, social, artistic, microclimate, and so on, can be adapted to one open space in the best interests of its users. As a result, public parks and open spaces play an important role in the formation of city character and the revitalization of cultural values.

Revitalized public spaces_©Norbert Tukaj

- A young architect and a firm believer in the potential of architecture, sustainability, research, and design thinking to significantly improve society and have a positive influence on the environment. A highly efficient and enthusiastic individual who is inspired by the meaning of architecture and its innovative effectiveness to translate thinking approaches into the built environment.