in. The question then remains, what can be
done with these spaces? How does one remedy but not go as far as to design a
formalised landscape? Small but meaningful interventions must be made to
rejuvenate these spaces and ensure legibility within the urban area.
Jane Jacobs provides a social analysis of
small pedestrian spaces. “Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear,
sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public
life may grow” (Jacobs 1961, p.95). She writes in favour of a resilient public
realm, beginning with the most basic and ever-present urban component:
sidewalks. Sidewalks allow for pedestrian movement and as a result, social
interaction. These spaces are usually small in size, yet allow for permeability
within the city and can often exceed their scope as narrow corridors and can
function as small squares or plazas if designed appropriately.
Enrique Penãlosa, another advocate for
public space, states that public space can be a catalyst for social interaction
and change. During his time as the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia Penãlosa financed
public infrastructure development across the city. The topography and urban
development within Bogota caused the richest and poorest members of society
living in close proximity, this created issues of equality and inclusion.
Peñalosa believes that the course of the development of cities can either
foster or inhibit social integration.
Many people cannot afford vehicles in
Bogota and so the priority should be given to pedestrians, firstly to ensure
social integration and secondly to allow for a green liveable city. Through the
provision of integrated urban infrastructure including sidewalks, cycle lanes,
open spaces and plazas, this could be achieved. These elements “can be an
equalizer – a means to a more inclusive society. In public space, people meet
as equals, stripped bare of their social hierarchies” (Peñalosa 2007, p.311).
Perhaps the concept of public space as a
catalyst for social change is oversimplified or naive. There are certainly
complex factors which contribute to a socially multifaceted urban condition.
However, these small investments must not be undervalued. Accourding to Fajardo
and Kawashima, the design interventions have “turned Bogotá from a chaotic,
unsafe city into a capital with a progressive transport system, public parks,
pedestrian and cycle networks” (Fajardo and Kawashima 2007, p.84).
A philosophical dimension reinforces the
argument for public space. Henri Lefebvre, a French Marxist philosopher,
contributed much to the literature on urban space (Christoffersen, 2010). In his book, The Right to the City, Don Mitchell
offers insight into Lefebvre’s work. Lefebvre proclaims that cities are
fundamentally public and therefore demand diverse accessible spaces for
interaction of all members of society (Mitchell 2003). Though this concept
encourages the creation of open and public spaces in the urban realm, Mitchell
furthers these theories to explain how social groups operate within these
physical spaces. He describes physical space as being a product of social
actions rather than a mere space being filled with social activities.
As a crux to his notion of public space,
Lefebvre refers to this as “representation”. In Mitchell’s words, a group
“takes space and through its actions makes it public” (Mitchell 1995, p.35). A
cyclical process is then activated in which “representation both demands space
and creates space”.
According to this theory, urban spaces
should be designed with the awareness and essence of those who use them in mind
Unfortunately, this is not often how urban design schemes develop. Mitchell
emphasizes that “spaces in the modern city are being produced for us rather
than by us” (Mitchell 1995).
The theories that have been explored thus
far place public space at the merging point between physical elements and the
social realm. Yet these public spaces cannot merely be designed and be expected
to be used. Community participation plays a large role in the development and
success of these small scale interventions and public space as a whole.
Here the “why” of small scale design has
been addressed. There is a lack of public space yet there exist ‘lost spaces’
that can be utilized to improve
the precinct. The question then remains: how
can small scale landscape interventions be implemented to rejuvenate a
densified urban fabric? The answer
could be to investigate similar projects and the success or failures that these
projects have experienced. Similar strategies could be implemented to encourage
community-centred projects to flourish.
Through the investigation of various
theories and precedent studies one can conclude that small scale landscape
interventions could form part of an important part of any city. Quite often these
aforementioned lost spaces are very strategically placed and can act as anchors
to improve legibility and liveability of the city’s urban fabric. These
interventions should be slight but strategic and in collaboration with various
social structures of the community, including those who are too often ignored.
The community participation should become part of every aspect of development
from design creation to implementation.
Practice, then, is about making the ordinary
special and the special more widely accessible — expanding the boundaries of
understanding and possibility with vision and common sense. It is about
building densely interconnected networks, crafting linkages between unlikely
partners and organizations, and making plans without the usual preponderance of
planning. It is about getting it right for now and at the
same time being tactical and strategic about later.
-Nabeel Hamdi, Small Change.