“What defines the character of a city is its public space, not its private space. What defines the value of the private assets of the space are not the assets by themselves but the common assets. The value of the public good affects the value of the private good. We need to show every day that public spaces are an asset to a city.” — UN-HABITAT Executive Director Joan Clos I Matheu

Urban open spaces affect the image of urban communities and are vital for urban culture and city life. Urban areas primarily are a heterogeneous blend of communities living together. They present various examples of contrasts in different levels of the social hierarchy. These distinctions in thoughts and actions offer Identity to the neighborhood and make them one of a kind inside the city. The open spaces are therefore changed to break the limits of economic contrasts and by and large remain as spaces for the exchange of thoughts and expression inside that urban space. The public space shapes public life in cities and affects the everyday city life practices.

The idea of what constitutes a place has broadened. In the late 1970s with Jane Jacobs and Kevin lynch the idea of what constitutes a human environment has changed. The focus for placemaking has extended to include the quality and character of neighborhoods and districts. As the scope for designers expanded, so did the ways to counter the human experience. Thus the questions about how to activate a public space became crucial and the role of public space in transforming cities became evident and vital.

Why do we need a Public Space?

Public spaces shape communities in neighborhoods. They are spots of experience and can encourage political preparation, invigorating activities, and help forestall wrongdoing. They are situations for association and trade of thoughts that sway the nature of the urban condition. With the progressive increase in urban population, there are projections that by mid-century around 75 percent of people will live in urban communities, thus the significance of parks and other open spaces will be magnified.

This brings into question the validity of the fact that how sustainable are our open spaces? And how important it is to have a sustainable open space? Well planned parks, therefore, become an important asset and growing need. They become a place of social affairs and are a democratic public space. They have a factor in the ecological advantages brought to urban areas. And can moderate environmental change, while plantings and other permeable surfaces assimilate water during monsoons and forestall flooding. Thus as per planning standards in many cities like the United States and Singapore 15-20 % of land should be devoted to public open space. Yet many cities are way behind this goal. Irrespective as far as sustainability is concerned no one yet questions the porosity of the surfaces of open spaces.

As a talk over sustainable open spaces, Ecological sustainability is a fundamental idea behind the High Line in New York. The park is a naturally green structure; The High Line is a raised freight rail line that changed into an open park on Manhattan’s West Side. It is claimed by the City of New York and kept up and worked by communities in support of the High Line. They worked for safeguarding and change when the noteworthy structure was under the danger of destruction. It is presently a non-benefit conservancy working with the government to keep this elevated, green open space open for all. Thus the kind of association that community develops in and around the open space is way significant to keep that open space lively.

Image Sources: View of Highline ©NY.curbed.com

Impact of Public Spaces on Cities

Open spaces are a crucial element of successful cities. They help assemble a feeling of community, urban character, and culture. Open spaces encourage social capital, monetary advancement, and community revitalization. They not only make cities livable for people rather create inclusive spaces that are accessible to all. Even though solutions need to be tailored to the particular context of every city. Thus the benefits could be multifold and can be retained in various domains of urban growth i.e. economic vitality via empowering local communities, improved quality of life, and environmental sustainability.

The importance of public space is often misunderstood only as a recreation space but rather these spaces are potential city growth generators and they often end up being cities’ most valuable land. But the provisions quite often consider them as just a green space rather it is way more than that. The absence of provisions for open spaces hampers economic activities, contaminates the environment, and diminishes social strength and security. Inexorable urbanization and population development further compound this circumstance. Public spaces should be viewed as an essential help, with a similar need as transport, water, shelter, and sanitation which government & communities often considered the basic asset.


Pps.org. 2014. Ten Strategies for Transforming Cities and Public Spaces Through Placemaking.

World Economic Forum. 2016. Why We Need More Public Spaces in Our Cities.

World Bank Blogs. 2015. Public Spaces – Not A “Nice to Have” But A Basic Need For Cities.

CityLab. 2013. Streets Can Be Public Spaces Too.


Yash Siroliya is a Masters in Urban Design student at the Planning Department in CEPT. In an award winning bachelor's thesis, Yash focused on the restoration of the artistic and cultural legacy of a Himachal village. These days he spends his time thinking about public spaces for the next billion.

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