In a digital age, people will reflect upon 2011 as the year in which physical public space reclaimed its lofty status in the public sphere. From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, physical public space reminded us of its multiple ambitions and capabilities for accommodating consequential political activities as well as everyday leisurely pursuits. Put plainly, place still matters. This conference at Harvard University will focus on physical (corporeal, material, tangible) public space. Physical public space comes in many flavors: publicly owned parks, streets, and sidewalks, privately owned public spaces, privately managed public parks, and temporary spaces that appear and disappear within a parking spot, under a bridge, in a surface parking lot, or anywhere else.
The production of public space simultaneously implicates and transcends technical decisions with regard to design, financing, and management considerations. Who should design public space? Should public spaces be designed at all? How should success of a public space be measured? Can the private sector participate in public space provision without a loss of “publicness”? Do achievements of democracy and equality depend on ample availability of public space? Can public space make a meaningful contribution to solving the world’s environmental problems, including storm water flooding? Are there universals of public space that define its use and appearance no matter where the space is located? Are temporary or informal public spaces a fad or breakthrough? Can theory inform, or better inform, practice? Public space scholars, practitioners, and activists will discuss and debate these and other questions along with an engaged audience. Attendance at the conference is free and open to the public.