The book Convivial Urban Spaces by Henry Shaftoe talks about creating effective public places in building a better community. It includes four chapters and a conclusion on the components of conviviality.This is a purposeful ruse, as images can frequently tell you a lot more about a public location than any amount of text. The author opens chapter one with an introduction that includes an overview and a discussion of how to define convivial spaces. He claims in this section that he has taken on the difficult task of spanning multiple professions because he believes that only by using a diverse approach will we be able to create more sociable settings. In each chapter of this book, various questions on the same are discussed and raised.

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Cover Page of the book_©
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Unconvivial: Dublin docks area redevelopment_©Convivial Urban Spaces

This book tries to discover the types of public areas and ways individuals like to spend their time in. It also covers the ways certain places get their “personality” and “conviviality” so that we may learn from the past and present to build, maintain, and manage higher-quality built environments in the future.

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Convivial: Freiburg, Southern Germany_©Convivial Urban Spaces

The book’s main body is broken into three pieces. The first section argues for the need for public space and analyses the social policies that influence the kind of public spaces that exist. The ideas and concepts that impact how we build and manage public places are covered in the second section. The final portion seeks to be more practical, elaborating on how we may use what we’ve learned to develop or sustain “convivial urban areas”. Many of the topics made in the various parts are illustrated in five case studies.

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St Enoch’s Square, Glasgow_©Convivial Urban Spaces

The second chapter looks at public areas and asks, “Why do we have them?” and “Who are they for?” This section of the book discusses establishing an inclusive or exclusive urban world, children, and public space, and finally examines young people’s usage of public space.

The third chapter asks, “What makes a space convivial?” This chapter covers topics such as principles and foundations, public space psychology, aesthetics – detecting the character of a place, major impacts on the usage of public space, and the size, forms, and varieties of public space.

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Bristol_©Convivial Urban Spaces

Chapter four investigates how effective public places are created and maintained. Here, we look at whether comfort is created or developed. The instance of Ciutat Vella in Barcelona is examined. Joy is also investigated through case studies of Berlin and Bristol.

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Hanging out in New York_©Convivial Urban Spaces

The instances of Padua and York are used to explore managing and maintaining public spaces. Many of the arguments mentioned previously in the book are gathered and summarized by Henry Shaftoe. He concludes by arguing that while there is no single design for a convivial environment, effective spaces do appear to have certain common qualities. Physical (including design and practical concerns), geographical, managerial, psychological, and sensory issues can all be grouped (how the space affects our mind, spirit, and senses).

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Kiosk Café, Lisbon_©Convivial Urban Spaces

Street drinkers, according to Henry, are citizens as well and should have a legal right to visit public spaces as long as they do not cause harm to others. However, street drinkers are typically aberrant, and there is no assurance that they do not cause harm to the locals. As a result, bylaws prohibiting the drinking of alcohol in specified public locations are required. This not only enhances conviviality but also provides a sense of physical and emotional safety.

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Street Party, Bristol_©Convivial Urban Spaces

The author outlined several very practical and concrete things that public space designers and maintainers may do and avoid to create the greatest possible environments. These ideas are primarily concerned with designing open spaces concurrently with the construction or redesign of buildings and other structures, rather than thinking of space as something that is left over after the buildings have been constructed.

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St Christopher’s Place, off Oxford Street, London_©Convivial Urban Spaces

The author emphasizes the need to keep safety and security in mind, as well as honour all types of senses and include people of all ages (what do they like and dislike) and segregation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. He talks of a variety of sitting opportunities, microclimate, providing opportunities and facilities for people to eat and drink, proper plantation and pedestrian-friendly lighting (mounted not too high and incorporating full colour spectrum luminaries). He argues the need to have litter bins adjacent to benches, picnic tables, and shelters, and ensuring that they are emptied regularly. Public restroom facilities on-site or nearby other crucial characteristics are identified by the author. All these provisions help to build convivial urban areas and avoid low-density sites, inadequate surveillance, and adopt low-cost or high-maintenance materials and features that will quickly decay or break down.

Copenhagen city centre _©Convivial Urban Spaces

He believes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing welcoming environments. It’s vital to note that, while the design is important, the size and placement of the space, as well as how it’s controlled and animated, are all equally critical elements. He goes on to say that successful designs in the past may teach us a lot. Even though we now have much new technology and the world has changed dramatically in the previous hundred years, the basic human desire for companionship has not altered. It’s no surprise that the majority of the world’s most popular public areas have been around for centuries, with some adaptation over time.

Finally, he stated that “it should be feasible to develop new convivial urban places for our increasing cities, as well as improve those that haven’t fully succeeded, by appreciating historical experience but not slavishly repeating what has gone before”

Although it is brief in terms of pages, it covers a wide range of topics, including public places, city planning, social elements, architecture, and human dynamics. This is not just an urban design book, nor is it a social policy book, nor is it a management handbook, according to its creator, rather it is a little bit of all three, plus a little more.


Rajita Jain is an architect by profession who engages with the dynamics of urban spaces and the people. She aims at developing ways of amalgamating cultural and traditional beliefs with modern day technology to give the urban fabric a vernacular sensitivity.