Public spaces are the areas that reside between the buildings in which we work and live and have been often forgotten because of the increased urban development around us. An effective public realm intervention dramatically improves human wellbeing and real estate values supporting long-term resilience.
As we are working together to create a sustainable world for future generations, there are many new innovative solutions for the public realm of our cities. These public realms reduce waste, energy demand and carbon footprints in cities. But the thing is, how does this physical infrastructure respond to human needs, and our behavior? We should equally consider people as we design, build and evolve our future communities.
The Role of the Public Realm:
The public realm plays a critical role in enhancing an urban city’s character and functions, including:
- Circulation and Access: The street provides circulation within or throughout the community – accommodating pedestrians, bicycles, and buses, in addition to automobiles and trucks.
- Development Framework: The public street provides the fundamental structure that contains and organizes individual developments into a cohesive whole.
- Public Open Spaces: In addition to the city’s parks and plazas, public spaces allow light, air, landscaping within the developed areas, serving as the ‘living room’ for a city life, where people meet, interact, etc.
- Visual Character: Buildings are important visual elements, but the physical design of the public realm is critical in establishing the community’s identity and overall character.
The Importance of the Public Realm:
For decades and decades, the significance of public urban places and their role in facilitating public life was ignored by those responsible for shaping the modern city. It was only when urban cities inundated by cars and threatened by the loss of the public realm. Throughout history, public places in cities have significantly contributed to urban life and people came together for social gatherings and reasons.
The term ‘public realm’ is used frequently and loosely by urban professionals. The term public realm, public domain, and public life are referred to the social processes among the city inhabitants that occur in public places. The direct impact that many policymakers wish to achieve through improvements to the public realm is relatively self-evident, creating better public spaces for improving the wellbeing of residents.
Policy-makers in local governments have a mandate to provide clean, safe and functional public spaces for residents across all neighborhoods. Incremental improvements to general wellbeings, such as improving public health or community relations having proportionately stronger effects.
Policy-makers also wish to see indirect, and often more radical, changes as a result of public realm interventions by creating better public spaces that will attract new people. If public realm improvements succeed in attracting more visitors to a previously less attractive high street or shopping center. This may even bloom the local jobs as increased economic activity creates demand for employment.
The goal of attracting new residents if often driven by beliefs about the benefits of mixed communities and the positive impact. Interventions of this type are typically a part of the larger-scale interventions discussed above, and often associated with other types of redevelopment and amenity improvements in the area.
Public Realm Interventions:
Public realm interventions covers a broad range of activities, from landscaping to cleaning up undesired graffiti and street rubbish, or erecting statues and improving pedestrian access to improve town centers and shopping districts. These interventions have intrinsic values and non-economic benefits like making streets more appealing to walk through or giving people something pleasant and interesting to look at.
The interventions in the public realm either directly or indirectly by requiring private sector partners to contribute to public realm improvements when they undertake development. Maintaining and providing parks and public squares is a core task of local government that might require developers to invest in a public space adjacent to a development site. Most types of interventions fall into one or two broad categories:
- Small-scale and isolated projects to improve the visual appearance and functionality of a local public space like rehabilitating a local park.
- Large-scale interventions forming part of integrated projects of redevelopment and regeneration, such as rejuvenating a previously unattractive central square to reflect and support investment into residential development. These are most likely to be undertaken jointly by the public and private sector, as a requirement on the private sector as a part of development.
Significance of the Public Realm:
Urban populations throughout the world are becoming more diverse. Withdrawing from such encounters, into a familiar world of people similar to oneself abets the inability to be with human beings different from ourselves. While there is an absence of common ground that is disadvantageous for the humanity of all, it is especially disastrous for children and youth, who are left without places for learning how to relate to other human beings.
People Watching: Human beings require and depends on contact with other human beings. Perceiving their presence- through looking, hearing and touching enabling all to experience themselves as less alone. The whole of human life in all its variety, there is the possibility of mixing cultures and experience and even dimly perceiving the oddities of human behavior. Persons sit or the walk-in public in order to be seen, to display particular attire and thus impress imagines or real audience.
Meeting in Public: Public places offer many opportunities for an informal and unplanned meeting of friends, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances of all kinds. Depending on the types of public spaces that exist in a city or a town, public life is facilitated or inhibited. Public places are often chosen well for prearranged meetings of relatives, friends, neighbors, students, etc. The availability of a place for meetings encourages the interaction between the people in the city.
Visibility: A characteristic of social life is also its visibility. The appearance or demeanor of others challenges deeply held premises and the reactions to strange different persons. When people share public spaces, they become reconciled to the diversity of people. Since all are visible to all, those fellow human beings are often ignored – physically or mentally challenged, become more visible in their suffering.
Planners are conditioned to think about the use and form of the public realm, landscape designers think about spaces at a fine level of function. Things keep changing quickly, so the profession should not get trapped in imagining a single function at a single point in time. Encouraging landscaping, plaza functions, street lights, and other public realm strategies will not only reduce the built-up of surface temperatures in paved buildings but also will benefit the communities living in urban areas.
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