Public Space

In a digital age, does physical public space matter? Tahrir Square, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Gezi Park, the streets of Hong Kong, Zuccotti Park, Madrid Rio, and countless other public spaces argue the affirmative, sporting ambitions from accommodating everyday leisure activities to mass political protests. Although perpetually adapting to current demands and contexts, physical public space nonetheless appears anchored in transcendent human needs and desires.

This seminar examines the case and place for physical public space. Physical public space occurs in a variety of typologies, including plazas, parks, streets, sidewalks, arcades, atriums, and other outdoor and indoor spaces, but morphology alone is not destiny. Public space raises fascinating and complex questions. What is meant by “public?” What makes good public space? Who decides what is good? 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? Who should design public spaces? Are there universal design principles? 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.

The seminar introduces students to foundational research and practice and offers them an opportunity to contribute new ideas and research to the field. A 5,000-word research paper or project is required. Class time is spent on discussions based on readings and regular presentations about the student’s work on their paper or project. Students are expected to complete assigned readings for each class so that they may actively participate in discussions. The research paper or project counts for 75% of the course grade, while class participation counts for 25%.