Public Space

In a digital age, does physical public space matter? Tahrir Square, the streets of Hong Kong, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Zuccotti Park, Madrid Rio, and other physical public spaces argue the affirmative, with ambitions ranging from accommodation of everyday leisure activities to political protests. Physical public space, although adapting to current demands and contexts, would appear anchored in transcendent human needs and desires.

This course examines the case and place for physical public space. Physical public space takes on a variety of physical forms, including sidewalks, streets, squares, parks, plazas, arcades, atria, and other outdoor and indoor spaces, but morphology alone is not destiny. Public space raises fascinating substantive and procedural questions. What are the purposes of public space? What makes good public space? Who decides what is good? Should public spaces serve all publics and allow all uses at once? Who should decide what is allowed? What role should design play? Who should design public space? Are there universal design principles? Who should own and manage public space? Can private parties participate in public space provision without loss of publicness? Is government provision always better that private provision? Does theory usefully inform practice? How much do democracy and equality depend on ample availability of public space? How much public space is enough? Is physical public space threatened or enhanced by the digital? Is a shopping mall a public space? And the list goes on.

This course introduces foundations for thinking about and making public space and offers students an opportunity to contribute research and new ideas to the field. Classes include lectures, discussions, and two small exercises (drafting rules of public space user conduct and creating a public space logo) that replace readings for that class. Students are expected to complete assigned readings for each class before class so that they may actively participate in discussions. A 5,000-word term paper or other instructor-approved final project of equivalent effort is required. The final project will count for 75% of the course grade, while class participation will count for 25%.