COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Report from the Final Future of Places Meeting in Stockholm

Jul 7, 2015
Dec 14, 2017
Sweden1 copy

Last week, 438 key thinkers in the Placemaking movement – including researchers, scholars, planners, architects, and activists from 76 countries – joined together in Stockholm for the third and final Future of Places conference. It was a challenging and inspiring three days with some of the best minds and public space visionaries in the field, including world-renowned sociologists and keynote speakers Saskia Sassen and Richard Sennett.

"The city has long been complex but incomplete, and in that mix of complexity and incompleteness lies the possibility of those without power to make a history, to make a culture, to make an economy." -Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of The Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University

The Future of Places platform began in 2013, with the mission to better define and build support for the importance of Placemaking and public space in sustainable urban development programs and policies, and specifically to demand that the issue be a fundamental component of the Post-2015 "New Urban Agenda," which will be decided during the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador, in 2016.

“We’re creating a global movement to shape spaces into places.” -Cecilia Martinez, former head of UN-Habitat
Image courtesy of Future of Places

Participants of the Future of Places conference series recognize the role of public space as the very foundation on which healthy and prosperous cities grow. Public spaces provide the stage and opportunity for fundamental human necessities such as social interaction and exchange, creativity and delight, and the transfer of skills and knowledge. While public spaces must be inclusive, connected, safe, and accessible, these requirements are often overlooked in policy and practice and there is an urgent need for key reforms in current legislation across the globe.

“Cities are not built forms, they are social forms. We must design from social life, not for it.” -Fran Tonkiss, speaker and author of Cities by Design: The Social Life of Urban Form

Along with the engaging discussion and debates that took place during this year’s jam-packed three-day program, during each day’s Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) session, participants contributed to the drafting of  “Public Space for the City We Need” – a collective document which will feed into “The Future We Want, the City We Need” declaration, and ultimately into Habitat III as well as other global processes such as the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recommendations.

[View the story "Future of Places 3: Public Space in the New Urban Agenda" on Storify]


Below are the key messages that emerged from Future of Places I, II, and III:

Goals and Challenges:

1. People-centered approach to planning

As an arena for public use and social interaction, public spaces are most often developed, managed and maintained by municipal government. If the municipal government adopts a people-centered approach to urban planning, they will more effectively achieve sustainable development. Emphasis needs to be placed on a shared responsibility between community and private entities with regard to the localized planning and maintenance of public space.

2. Inclusive public space for all, particularly vulnerable groups

Attention needs to be given to vulnerable members of the population, including the elderly, the disabled, youth, and low income groups, to ensure their social and political inclusion in the allocation and design of public spaces. Public space has a responsibility to be flexible and open enough to serve a variety of users and uses, ranging from informal to formal settlements. Well-designed public spaces not only contribute to improve the visual and spatial character of a city, but also stimulate and enhance intergenerational, social and economic activities.

3. Public space that respects human scale and behavior

All public space needs to be of a human scale and respond to a variety of functions and patterns of use based on an understanding of human behavior, health, needs, sensibilities and aspirations. Spaces are defined both by their shape and the quality of their edges. Simple, temporary and tactical interventions can be used to test and promote more permanent changes.

4. A citywide network of connected streets and public spaces

A holistic, evidence-based approach to the city is necessary with attention focused not only on the space itself, but its form, function and connectivity.  Streets should serve as multimodal networks of social and economic exchange, forming the urban framework of interconnected public space. Walkability, social interaction, multimodal mobility and accessibility should be supported by a fine-grained block and street network lined with buildings providing amenities and services with a mix of uses and sizes.

5. Economic productivity of public space

Investing in public space can have powerful social, economic, cultural and health benefits. If people are committed to their future in a specific place, they invest more time and capital in that place, which has a positive impact on the local economy and creates a virtuous cycle of economic growth. Public space stimulates the small scale, local and informal economy, as well as generates tax revenue.

6. Access to public space – public and private spheres

In many places there has been a reduction of urban public space, a lack of clear boundaries between the public and private spheres and diminished freedom of expression and movement. The market alone cannot always provide a variety of public and private open spaces. A more nuanced range that provides a variety of open places, including semi-public and semi-private space is needed.

7. Sustainable public spaces that are healthy, safe, resilient, energy-efficient and resource efficient

Public space and the buildings that surround and define it need to be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Social sustainability requires security, equity and justice; economic sustainability benefits from affordable capital and operating budgets; environmental sustainability addresses ecological and health issues. These include clean air, water and soil, green micro-climates and the mitigation and adaptation to the Urban Heat Island Effect and Climate Change. Effective use should be made of green technologies and systems. Architecture and urban design that is adaptable and appreciated is cared for and sustained for a longer time.

8. Culture and context of public space

Public space is made unique through cultural and contextual elements that complement and enrich its identity. Spaces should be flexible and respond to the geography, climate, culture and heritage specific to its locality. Public arts can be an effective method for celebrating community identity and belonging in open spaces.

Action and Implementation:

1. Advocacy and Mobilization

Raise awareness and create movements to mobilize stakeholders in the pursuit to build community. Promotion of discussions, forums, workshops, pop-up projects and public space prizes will further mobilize and increase awareness of and sense of belonging.

2. Measurement and Monitoring

Establish policy and frameworks at the national level for cities to allocate an appropriate percentage of the land to public space. An inventory of public space assets in a city will reveal the availability of public space typologies, allowing city-builders to address shortfalls and encourage a balance of public spaces throughout a city.

3. Public Space Financing Solutions

Examination of creative financing solutions such as public land acquisition, conversion of private space to public space or land value capture will be effective in producing greater amounts of economically sustainable public space.

4. Policies and Legislation for Public Space

Establish policies, legislation, and regulatory mechanisms for the provision, design, management and use of public spaces. Long-term structures, management mechanisms and partnerships at the national, regional and local level can align governments and other stakeholder’s interests. Open feedback and accountability mechanisms can ensure two-way discussions among stakeholders.

5. Empowerment of Marginalized Groups

Set in place processes for the inclusion of all ages, the vulnerable, and the disadvantaged. Establish a legal framework to ensure the inclusion of disadvantaged groups in public space discussion and processes. Special emphasis should be placed on job creation, livelihoods and quality of life for low-income groups.

6. Tools and Knowledge Management

Establish open-source knowledge management platforms with training workshops, capacity building, tools, best practices, model legislation, statistics, and methodologies for creating and managing public space. Empirical evidence-based research on the practice and theory of public space needs to be made widely available

“We’re creating a global movement to shape spaces into places.” -Cecilia Martinez, former head of UN-Habitat's New York, Latin American, and Mexican offices, and current PPS board member
FoP Agenda Cover
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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space