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«When public spaces are successful […] they will increase opportunities to participate in communal activity. This fellowship in the open nurtures the growth of public life, which is stunted by the social isolation of ghettos and suburbs. In the parks, plazas, markets, waterfronts, and natural areas of our cities, people from different cultural groups can come together in a supportive context of mutual enjoyment. As these experiences are repeated, public spaces become vessels to carry positive communal meanings». [1]
In Dr. Georgiana Varna’s lecture

we had a very recurring topic: ‘Measuring Public Space: The Star Model’, and one of the main questions covered during the lecture, was:

Urbanists have long held the view that the physical and social dynamics of public space play a central role in the formation of publics and public culture. A city’s streets, parks, squares, and other shared spaces have been seen as symbols of collective well-being and possibility, expressions of achievement and aspiration by urban leaders and visionaries, sites of public encounter and formation of civic culture, and significant spaces of political deliberation and agonistic struggle. While urban commentators and practitioners have varied in their views on the precise detail of collective achievement across time and space, they have generally not questioned the assumption that a strong relationship exists between urban public space, civic culture, and political formation, as the quote that opens this paper clearly shows. [2]

Can we create “very good places” or is it only an illusion?

• Privatization and commodification of space
• The end of public culture-fragmentation
• The Golden Era and the “narrative of loss”
• Placelessness and the standardization of place, globalization, loss of authencity.


• ‘Commodification’ of space
• Gated communities and CCTV
• Exclusion and (though?) the ‘cappuccino’ society
• Rights infringement and political activism
• ‘Fantasy parks’ and Disneyfication of space
• Fragility of public space and terrorism.

Don Mitchell (1995):
‘Have we created a society that expects and desires only private interactions, private communications and private politics, that reserves public spaces solely for commodified recreation and spectacle?


• Public space is in transformation
• More choice, more alternatives – the Internet, home entertainment systems…
(open source urbanism)
Designing Spaces (SE 2001)


1. Distinct identity
2. Spaces are safe and pleasant
3. Easy to move around (especially, on foot) – ‘permeable’
4. Visitors feel the sense – of – welcome
5. Adapt easily to changing circumstances (‘robust’)
6. Make good use of scarce resources (‘sustainable’).

social scientists


  • Can we ‘measure’ the loss (or increase) in ‘publicness’?
  • Can we determine the ‘publicness’ of public space?
  • What is the standard/ideal public space?
  • What makes a public space, public?

“However, I need to emphasize from the outset that what we know about the public realm is greatly overshadowed by what we do not know.”

(Lofland, 1980)

Generally Urban Design thought…

Two traditions – stemming from different ways of appreciating the products of the design process:

I) As aesthetic objects or ‘displays’ – for ‘looking at’

I) ‘VISUAL – ARTISTIC TRADITION’, emphasizing visual form – ‘buildings and space’

II) As environments – for ‘living in’ or ‘using’

II) ‘SOCIAL USAGE’ TRADITION, concerned with public use and experience of urban environment – ‘people, places and activities’. (Jarn’s, 1980)


  • Tradition emanates from CAMILLO SITTE’s City Planning According to Artistic Principles (1889)


  • LE CORBUSIER – was also the key proponent of tradition – albeit as Sitte’s ‘aesthetic antithesis’.

Shifted focus in two key ways…

  • In terms or APPRECIATING the urban environment, by emphasizing that pleasure in urban environment was commonplace – rather than elite – experience.
  • In terms of the OBJECT of study – instead of examining physical (material) form, KEVIN LYNCH proposed examining people’s perceptions and mental images – used technique of ‘mental mapping’. 

Key messages:

  1. A city has a public image – or ‘perhaps, a series of public images’ held by its citizens.
  2. The city images can be easily understood when thought in terms of five types of elements: paths, edges, districts, notes and landmarks. (p. 46)
  3. These elements may be useful as ‘building blocks for the urban designer’. (p. 109)

Kevin Lynch also discussed concept of ‘IMAGEABILITY’ – ease or difficulty of creating image (or mental map) of area.


  • JANE JACOBS (1961)

…argued that the city could never be a work of art because art involved ‘selection from life’, while city was ‘…LIFE AS IT’S MOST VITAL, COMPLEX AND INTENSE’.

(‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The failure of Town Planning’. Jane Jacobs)


  • Close observations of public spaces emphasized role as sites of human activity and social interaction
‘To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts,
four conditions are indispensable:
  1. The district must serve more than one primary function.
  2. Most blocks must be short.
  3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition.
  4. There must be a successfully dense concentration of people…’

(Jacobs, 1961 [1993], p. 196)


  • In a Pattern Language (1997) and The Timeless Way of Building (1979), CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER set out a range of ‘patterns’.

(As the activities grow around the space, it becomes more lively)

  • Patterns were identified relationships between activities and spaces.
  • Similar detailed observation informed subsequent studies.

         JAN GEHL’s:

  • Life Between Buildings (1971)
  • Cities for People (2010)


  • WILLIAM ‘Holly’ WHYTE:

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980)

‘It’s difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.’

    Public Space consists of:
  1. Human geography (sense of place)
  2. Planning (Physical Design)
  3. History (Evolution of public space)
  4. Architecture (Public Art)
  5. Urban Design (‘Livability’ and ‘Vitality’)
  6. Law (Ownership and access)
  7. Sociology (Human interactions)
  8. Psychology (‘Social animal’)
  9. Ecology (Environmental Sustainability)
  10. Anthropology (Historical value)
  11. Politics (Rights)
  12. Economics (Social Capital)
Public space is simultaneously a product of (a) society – a dynamic reality:

A) on a long term scale

B) on a short time scale – the land development process – different actors with their own aims and activities.


Publicness has a dual nature: it can be a cultural reality and also a historical reality at the same time.

Epistemological level
Critical realism Interpretivism
Ontological level
Objectivism Constructionism
Conceptual level
Part of the Human Environment

Product of the development process

Methodological level
Quantitative Methodology

Qualitative Methodology

  1. Ownership
  2. Physical configuration
  3. Animation
  4. Control
  5. Civility


  1. 1st meta-dimension of publicness – Ownership – refers to the legal status of a parcel of land, as the result of a purchase. It ranges from absolute public ownership to absolute private ownership, going through variations of grey shades between these two extremes.
  2. 2nd meta-dimension of publicness – Physical configuration – refers to the physical characteristics of a public place as a part of the built environment. It consists of two levels: macro-design (the choice of locality, connectivity, visibility) and microdesign (sitting opportunities, walking opportunities, active frontages etc.)
  3. 3rd meta-dimension of publicness – Animation –refers to the practical expression of human needs in public places – to the actual use of a place. The „more public‟ public places, in terms of animation, are those characterised by a vibrant public life expressed in a wide range of activities performed by a large number and a high diversity of users.
  4. 4th meta-dimension of publicness – Control – refers to the different measures taken to limit the individual freedom and the political manifestations of the members of a certain social group, when they are present in a public place. It refers both to measures taken as part of the management of public places and to methods imbedded in the design of public place.
  5. 5th meta-dimension of publicness – Civility – refers to the overall cleanliness and tidiness of a public place, including those elements that are key in making a public place an inviting and attractive area (bins, green areas, public toilets, etc.).

The theoretical Star Model of Publicness


  1. Carr, Francis, Rivlin and Stone, 1993, p. 344.
  2. Collective culture and urban public space (Ash Amin, 2006).
  3. Varna, G. Measuring Public Space: The Star Model, Routledge.
  4. Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, Random House.
  5. Lynch, K. (1960) The Image of the City. Cambridge, MIT Press.
  6. Mitchell, D. (2003) The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space.
  7. Sennett, R. (1976/1979) The Fall of Public Man.
  8. Whyte, W. H. (1980) The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington DC, Conservation Foundation.

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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