Public Space

In an age of digital empire, people will reflect on 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 course 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 such spaces? Should they be designed at all? Can the private sector participate in public space provision without a loss of “publicness”? Can theory inform or better inform practice? How much do democracy and equality depend on an ample availability of public space? How should success of a given public space be measured? Are there universals of public space that define it no matter where it is located?

Part of the course will involve lectures with discussion to introduce students to the literature and practice of physical public space. Part of the course will involve group projects with field research documenting and analyzing selected categories of public space. The course will include completion of a term-long group or individual research project.