In a digital age, does physical public space matter? Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, Madrid Rio, and the High Line argue yes, with ambitions ranging from everyday leisure activities to political protests. Physical, corporeal, material public space survives and thrives as an evergreen facet of human life, adapted to desires of the day yet anchored in long-standing functions and local contexts. Put plainly, place still matters.
This course examines the case and place for physical public space in today’s world. Physical public space comes in many flavors: parks operated by public or private entities, city-owned streets, sidewalks, and squares, privately owned public spaces, parklets, and temporary spaces appearing within spaces normally dedicated to other uses. Production of physical public space raises questions about purpose, design and planning, financing, and oversight. What makes good public space? Are there common metrics defining “good?” Should it serve all publics at once? How much public space is enough? What role does design play, if any? Who should design public space? Are there universal design principles? Who should manage public space? Can the private sector participate in public space provision without loss of “publicness”? Is government provision always better that private provision? Can theory usefully inform practice? How much do democracy and equity depend on ample availability of public space? Is physical public space threatened or enhanced by the digital?
The course meets as a seminar/workshop once a week for three hours. The first part of the course involves seminar discussions grounded in classic readings and case studies designed to develop overall fluency with the subject matter. The course also asks students to pursue either a group research project or an individual research project, each culminating in written, graphic, and in some cases digital products.