Blog 4 – Categories of Public Spaces

Below is the figure showing my categories of Public Spaces.

Public Spaces 2.jpg

* Parts of some of these large can emerge as claimed places and coastal and foreshore nodes are generally planned to be places within broader foreshore spaces.

As noted in by first blog, public spaces are typified by being frequently used by passer-byer’s who don’t really have a sense of ownership and there is a very weak sense of private geography.

Please note that all photographs are taken by me, unless otherwise attributed.


I’ll start with a quote from the Green Day song “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”

“I walk a lonely road

The only one that I have ever known

Don’t know where it goes

But it’s home to me and I walk alone

I walk this empty street

On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Where the city sleeps

And I’m the only one and I walk alone”

Modern boulevards may best be described as ‘unlonely’ streets where pedestrians dominate and the adjacent land uses are both destinations and aesthetic attractions. The primary purpose of the pedestrian-way is to allow transit rather than being places to stop and do things. The adjacent land uses are what draws people to the boulevard, and both length and variety add to the attractions.

Many boulevards run along foreshores with the water body a significant aesthetic attraction (Figures 1 and 2). Others run through the middle of the city and may have open space (parks) adjacent to the pedestrian way (Figure 3 and 4).

Fig 1: Popular water front boulevard in Porto, Portugal
Fig 2: Barangaroo Headland Park, Sydney Harbour.
 mediumPorto river south bank 5 Barangaroo Headland Park 1


Fig 3: Boulevard in the middle of Athens
Fig 4: View of the Washington Mall
square athens I have a dream view

Some boulevards have commercial land adjacent to the pedestrian-way – for example cafes, galleries and other tourism related businesses (Figures 5 and 6).

Fig 5: Darling Harbour (Sydney) at night showing the various cafes adjacent to the pedestrian way
Fig 6: Southbank in Melbourne
Night Darling Harbour South Bank 3 

Walking is the most popular activity, but in the early mornings and late afternoons, running, cycling and other fitness activities are popular (Figures 7 and 8).

Fig 7: Early morning runner on the circular boulevard in Lucca Italy
Fig 8: Early morning exercisers, Swan River Perth.
Lucca-3 medium_Swan River exercising

Whilst these boulevards attract a lot of people, many are occasional users and tourists, which makes the development of sense of place less likely.

In summary, boulevards are popular long pedestrian ways, with limited senses of place, that allow transit and exercising rather than being places to stop and do things, with the adjacent land uses, often including linear waterways, cafes and parklands, drawing people to the boulevard.

Open malls and forecourts

I have grouped these two together because there are strong commercial motivations around the creation of these spaces.

In some ways, open malls are short versions of boulevards. They are typically closed off roads with retail shopping outlets on both sides. The primary purpose of these spaces is to attract people and to enhance the shopping experience (Figures 9 and 10).

Fig 9: Rundle Mall in Adelaide
Fig 10: Burke St mall, Melbourne
Adelaide Rundle St Mall-3 Bourke St Mall

Most malls have infrastructure that add to the aesthetics and usability of the space which encourage users to spend time in the mall, for example seating (Figure 11) or public art (Figure 12).

Fig 11: Playground in Manly shopping mall
Fig 12: Public art in the Launceston shopping mall
Manly shoping mall Launceston Mall-2

These spaces are generally popular, but most people stay for only short periods of time, and the regular visitors are those who work in the city.

Forecourts are generally created in the front of large buildings and are technically private spaces –i.e. within private property – but they are permanently open to the public. The owners often create rules about how the space can be used (Figure 13). This sense of private control works against any sense of place developing. Because these are private spaces, the owner can hold their own events – Figure 14 shows a statue of Marilyn Monroe temporarily located in the forecourt of a tower in Chicago

Fig 13: Central Park tower forecourt in Perth, with a sign displaying the ‘rules’ of entry
Fig 14: A statue of Marilyn Monroe temporarily located in the forecourt of a tower in Chicago
Central Park Marilyn Monroe 1

In summary, open malls and forecourts are created spaces with a strong commercial basis for their existence – either in support of retail shopping or as publically available but privately regulated spaces within the boundary of a large building. This primary, non-public, purpose for these spaces works against the development of any sense of place despite their popularity.


These are public spaces in that they are, or were, roads. They tend to be narrow and function as pedestrian ways as well as for cars. In some of the older parts of cities like Perth, lanes were used to service houses, for example, the removal of human waste. Figure 15 below shows and old back lane in North Perth. Many laneways in city CBDs have been converted into commercial areas, mostly with cafes and street dining (Figure 16), in part in response to safety concerns – increasing human activity increases surveillance and reduces the safety risk.

Fig: 15: Back lane in North Perth
Fig 16: Commercialized laneway in Christchurch, New Zealand – in this case outdoor seating for a small pub
Lane street art Northbridge Christchurch lane 1

The undeveloped laneways are primarily about pedestrian movement from one location to another, often being short cuts, and have very limited senses of place. The commercialized laneways, whilst being much more interesting spaces, and more popular transit-ways and destinations, become destinations by acquiring public space and making it private – I have called these’ acquired non-places’, and I discuss these in detail in my next blog.

In summary, laneways are narrow roads, often found in the older parts of cities, whose primary purpose is as pedestrian transit-way, and many CBD laneways have become developed for commercial purposes, thus increasing their popularity and becoming destination spaces as well.

Large Urban Parks and foreshores

These are the large pieces of open space that are largely undeveloped, have low visitor numbers, and usually have a specific purpose not necessarily supporting place making. As noted in my previous blog, certain high user areas within these spaces, usually with supporting infrastructure, can be become acquired places – for example coastal nodes. In WA, we are lucky that the coast – the beach and nearby foreshore areas – are contained within public reserves. Certain locations within these reserves are developed as coastal nodes with the remainder largely remaining undeveloped. These undeveloped areas are mostly fenced off to protect the vegetation, and usually have paths and formal tracks that go through them to allow pedestrian and cycling access (Figure 17). In other locations, the foreshore is narrower with little, if any, vegetation, and the surrounding land uses are residential and open space (Figure 18).

Fig 17: Path in the coastal foreshore between Coogee and Woodman Point south of Perth –
Fig 18: Foreshore in Brighton, near Adelaide
Coogee-Woodman Pt path Brighton foreshore 1

The beach is accessible to the public.

Thus, the primary purpose of these areas is conservation or open space, with supporting passive recreation. In some sense, these foreshore areas are like passive boulevards with the land uses adjacent to the path being conservation, open space and/or residential, and the land uses adjacent to the beach are conservation or open space, and the ocean.

Large urban bushland reserves have the same qualities, without the ocean as an adjacent land use (Figure 19). Many large, poorly designed town squares and large inner city parks also come under this category as they simply serve as a pedestrian transit-ways or have poor visitation rates (Figure 20).

Fig 19: Kings Park in Perth
Fig 20: City park in Darwin
Kings Park aerial Darwin City Park

There is an argument that some of these places can develop a clear sense of place, exactly because they are not well visited, as they have a sense of wilderness, or people feel a sense of aloneness. This is particularly true of some urban beaches (Figure 21). I will stick my neck out here and say that this sense of personal aloneness is about the space being acquired for a private, not public, use. The sense of place is, therefore, an acquired private sense of place and not a shared public sense of place. Similar to isolated beaches, people can find locations within large, not well used, town squares and city parks for quiet contemplation and to find a sense of aloneness (Figure 22).

Fig 21: Someone finding a sense of wilderness or feeling a sense of aloneness on an isolated urban beach
Fig 22: Someone finding a feeling a sense of aloneness in a large urban park in Porto, Portugal
Cape Peron 1 Porto inner park 3

In summary, large urban parks and foreshores are large spaces with low relatively visitation rates whose primary purpose is other than providing opportunities for place-making. They have features (beaches) of infrastructure (paths) that allow for pedestrian transit, but little opportunity is created for developing a public sense of place, although remote locations within these spaces may allow for an acquired private sense of place associated with aloneness to develop.

Redundant spaces

Redundant spaces are simply those spaces that are neglected, left undeveloped and have little, if any, function. A power line easements is one such space (Figure 23), and another are awkward pieces of green space created when road alignments are changed at intersections (Figure 24)

Fig 23: Powerline easement
Fig 4: Green space created in the front of houses when the road was realigned furrier away from the houses
Power easement Sth lake 3 WilliamStreetHouses

Some medium strips fall under this category as well (Figure 25). In some cases, these spaces evolve through changing urban and street design where roads and paths become unused as new construction blocks the flow of the path (Figure 26).

Fig 25: Largely functionless medium strip in Leura
Fig 26: A road in Lucca Italy that has been blocked and is now redundant
Leura-1 Lucca-6

Under used parks

These are small to medium sized parks that, well, let’s be frank, are poorly designed, do not meet the needs of potential users, and are underused. They are can be those designed and built by developers to ‘market’ the development to a particular demographic – for example young families – but the suburb has outgrown that design (Figure 27). They can also be too small for any practical use with few if any infrastructure (Figure 28)

Fig 27: Underused park in Dunsborough WA. Well designed but not suited to the demographic of the suburb
Fig 28: Small park in South Fremantle with no useable infrastructure
Dunsborough Small subby and POS Sth Freo 4


These are large tertiary institutions that are too large to be fence off and access controlled, and the main population that accesses them are students. Their grounds and open spaces can be extensive, but there is both a ‘privateness’ and ‘temporariness’ about them (Figure 29). Any member of the public can access these spaces, but it is largely not encouraged and, thus, the sense of ‘privateness’. The key users are, for the most part, only there for short periods of time, and, whilst some sense of place may develop, it is soon lost once students graduate. Some of the spaces and courtyards of buildings and have a stronger sense of ‘privateness’ (Figure 30).

Fig 29: TAFE campus in Adelaide
Fig 30: More private open space in Sydney University
Adelaide TAFE space sydney-uni-2

Interestingly, some universities are putting a lot of effort into landscaping an adding infrastructure, with the aim of creating a stronger sense of place so as to encourage students to be on campus more often and longer (Figure 31).

Fig 31: Hammocks provided at Curtin University as a way to add to the sense of place

Road verges

A road verge is different from a street verge in that sense of place develops in streets verges because pedestrians stop and spend time in the street, whereas a road verge is simply a pedestrian transit way. Figures 28 and 29 in my last blog shows the differences between a street and road verge – shown below as Figures 32 and 33.

Fig 32: A typical neighbourhood street showing good connections between the house and the verge and the presence of a footpath – a street verge
Fig 33: A verge in a different neighbourhood with poor connection between the house and the verge and the absence of a footpath – a road verge
Stanley building 4 house front Nov 2006

Below are some more examples of road verges.

Fig: 34: Narrow road verge – the Causeway in Perth
Fig 35: Road verge in inner Brisbane
Bikes and walkers Causeway Perth Cycleway brisbane 1


Fig: 36: Road verge in Chicago
Fig 36: Very narrow road verge in Florence
above ground railway 3 Florence-43


Categories of Public Places

Below is the figure showing my categories of Public Places.

Public Places 2

Please note that all photographs are taken by me, unless otherwise attributed.

As noted in by first blog, Public Places are typified by having regular users who have built a sense of ownership for the place through frequent social interactions.

Neighbourhood parks

These are small local parks that are well designed, used primarily by locals, and have a range of facilities, often including playground equipment. Both design and location are critical in these sites becoming public places. They are generally located in residential areas, either low density suburbs or adjacent to medium and higher density nodes. In the later cases, these places are highly significant and are likely to have higher useage in part because of the greater number of people with the place’s catchment, but also because they compensate for the absence of backyards present in low density suburbs. See below for examples. These places have a strong sense of local ownership.

The park on the left is in a low density suburb of Perth, whereas the second in inner city Geneva.

Fig 1: Neighbourhood park in a low density suburb
Fig 2: Neighbourhood park in higher density suburb
Secret Har mix POS 6 Geneva Appartment park 1

Many of these smaller parks are also used as part of local and regional urban stormwater management, where some of the park is set aside for either temporary water storage during storm events or more permanent water storage where an artificial lake is created. See photos below.

Fig 3: Neighbourhood park with a section used for temporary storage of stormwater
Fig 4: Neighbourhood park with a section used for permanent storage of stormwater
Canning-Vale-drainage-5 IMG_0567

Where part of a park is set aside for either temporary water storage during storm events (photo on the left above) this part becomes unusable during that time, whereas the presence of permanent water adds to the aesthetic and natural values of the park.

In summary, neighborhood parks are small local parks that are well designed, used primarily by locals residents, have a range of facilities, often including playground equipment and are located in residential areas.

Sporting places

These are typically places where the primary use is for a specific organised sports or active activity. In Australia, it typically includes ovals used for football (AFL) and cricket, but also rectangular fields for soccer and rugby. They can be a single oval/rectangular field or have multiple fields. The sporting clubs who utilise these fields have a strong sense of ownership because participants regularly users these playing fields, and often significantly enhanced due to the presence of club rooms used for a range of social events, including during and after matches, fund raising events, annual awards nights and being hired out to the broader community for social events. See Google Earth photos below.

Fig 5: Single field sporting field
Fig 6: multi-field sporting field
Tempest Park Google Earth Morris Buzacott Reserve Google Earth
Fig 7: Organised sport being played on a sport field

When the fields are not being used for organised sport, they revert to broader community places similar to neighbourhood parks but at a larger scale. However, the strong sense of ownership developed by the sporting clubs that regularly use the fields can sometimes lead to these clubs trying to exclude other people using the field(s) and facilities.

Because of the size of playing fields, many will have multi functions, for example have nature spaces or be used as part of the local or regional drainage system – see below.

Fig 8: Sporting field with a large area set aside as a nature space
Fig 9: Sporting field with a section used for temporary storage of stormwater
Carine Open Space Google Earth Coolamon Oval Basin

Outdoor skate parks and hard courts (e.g. tennis and netball) also fit in this category. Skate parks are interesting in this context in that the activity is not normally organised, and the users prefer this informality. In many cases, the sense of ownership is as significant as for playing fields which cater for organised sports.

Figs 10 and 11: Skate parks in Port Macquarie in NSW and Sheffield in Tasmania
Skate park Shefield skate park


As can be seen in the Sheffield skate park, street art is often associated with skate parks, adding to the sense of place and also attracting an additional set of people who have ownership of the park.

In summary, sporting places have a specific primary use which is either an organised sport or an active activity, with regular users who develop a strong sense of ownership because and , as a results strong social interactions occur in these places.

Town Squares

Town squares are often the main public places in major cities or towns where people congregate during the day, and where major events are held. They are typically located within the commercial/retail/business heart of the city, and usually there are few people who actually live nearby and who would call this place ‘local’. These places have many regular users who come from all over the city, who work in the city area. Other visitors are regular shoppers, tourists, or people who regularly/occasionally attend events held in the square. In these ways, these squares are ‘owned’ by the whole city. Below are a few examples.

Fig 12: Federation Square in Melbourne
Fig 13: Forrest Chase in Perth
Federation square-10 Forrest chase 2

These places usually have significant infrastructure to facilitate a whole range of uses and users.

Fig: 14: Chess playing in Parc des Bastions, Geneva
Fig 15: Jay Pritzker Pavilion Amphitheater in Millennium Park, Chicago
Park chess Millenium_parke__Jay Prizker Pavilion 4

They often have significant pieces of art which invite interaction. Probably the most famous is the Bean in Millennium Park, Chicago.

Figs 16 and 17: The Bean in Millennium Park, Chicago
Millenium_parke__The Bean 1 Millenium_parke__Interacting bean 4

In summary, town squares are the main public places in major cities or towns where people congregate during the day, and where major events are held. They have many regular users, few of whom would be ‘local’, who come from all over the city, to work, shop and visit for events – they are owned by the whole city. They have significant infrastructure to facilitate a whole range of uses and users.

Coastal and foreshores nodes

Coastal areas and other foreshores, especially rivers, are linear and extends for many kilometres (many 1000’s in the case of the coast). There are often significant nodes that are highly developed with infrastructure that facilitate public activities. These nodes often develop into significant places. The less develop areas of coasts and foreshores can be considered spaces rather than places.

There is an argument that these places can be considered examples of neighbourhood parks (local beaches) and Town Squares (regional beaches). Indeed, they share many of the attributes of each of these, for example many regional beaches have facilities, infrastructure and uses which are the same as Town squares – see Scarborough Beach below.

Figs 18 and 19: Scarborough Beach in Perth WA, with facilities, infrastructure and uses the same as a town square
Scarborough 3 Scarborough-34

Two attributes differentiate beaches and foreshores from neighbourhood parks and town squares: the beach and water (ocean or river) are significant features and attracters which also allows specific aquatic uses; and, their linear nature allows for specific uses, for example walking, running and cycling, not catered for in neighbourhood parks and town squares.

Local beaches are usually located adjacent to residential areas and, as with neighbourhood parks, these places have strong senses of local ownership.

Fig 20: Falcon beach – a local beach and foreshore
Fig 21: A section of Southbank foreshore, Brisbane that is a node of community activity
Falcon main beach kids SouthBankBeachPool1

Regional beaches and river foreshore nodes in large cities (Fig 21) are typically highly developed, with the adjacent area being a mix of commercial and tourist accommodation. The sense of ownership comes from both the regular local users and the regular/occasional users who are not locals but visit the place for special occasions including organised events or gatherings of families/friends.

Figs 22 and 23: to Manly beach, Sydney, and the commercial and tourist accommodation uses adjacent to the beach
Manly Beach-2 Manly beach front
Fig 24: People watching a laser show on the Brisbane River foreshore – a special event
Fig 25: Gathering of family/friends at Scarborough beach
Brisbane fesitval laser show 10 Scarborough-35

In summary, coastal and foreshore nodes are specific highly developed locations within a broader coast or foreshore that develop significant private geography because they are either locally significant or attract people outside the local area. The attraction is for the facilities, events and the attractions associated with the water.

Streets and verges

When I am teaching and engaging with students on open space, I often pose a simple question: what are the differences between a street and a road? Whilst the volume of traffic is one difference, and a significant one, it’s the notions of localness and sense of place that are usually identified as key differences by students, where streets are seen as having a strong sense of place whereas roads act primarily as infrastructure for the transit of both vehicles and pedestrians. Sense of place develops in streets because pedestrians stop and spend time in the street, usually on the street verges and footpaths.

Streets are more likely to develop in neighbourhoods where the house is close to the path and front fences allow for a physical connection. This is less likely where there is no path and the verge merges with private property, and the resident is more likely to see the verge as private (i.e. theirs) and not public. For this reason, older suburbs are more likely to have streets and newer suburbs to have roads.

Fig 28: A typical neighbourhood street showing good connections between the house and the verge and the presence of a footpath
Fig 29: A verge in a different neighbourhood with poor connection between the house and the verge and the absence of a footpath
Stanley building 4 house front Nov 2006

Community verge gardens are becoming more and more popular, and provide not only a food for locals, but also opportunities for social interactions.

Streets can be local and within a defined neighbourhood where residents meet and socialise. As well, a place is created within a town or city centre, where the footpath has been redeveloped, and often widened taking up some of the road space, and facilities are provided to encourage people and groups to gather, stop and socialise (Fig 30).

Streets and verge places are created, therefore, when people do more than just pass through. It’s when they stop and carry out public activities. As a result, a strong sense of place develops.

In some inner-city areas, the street itself becomes used for more than just cars, trucks and bikes. Traffic calming allows pedestrians to use the street, and even allow children to play – Fig 31.

Fig 30: A widened and re-developed footpath in inner Melbourne which is now a social place
Fig 31: a traffic calmed street allowing children to play
Swanson Street-2 Kids play CBD Geneva

You will notice that I have not included those streets where out-door dining attached to cafes and restaurants occur. I consider these areas to be ‘acquired non-spaces’, and I will explain this in a future next blog when I get to Public non-spaces.

In summary, streets and verges places are footpaths, verges and streets where the transit of traffic and people is complimented by people stopping and socialising, often facilitated by provision of infrastructure.

Urban farms

I ummed and ahhhed about where to place Urban farms – are they public or private spaces? Certainly, many of these are on public land whereas others are on private land owned by agencies that are active in the social and community spheres – for example churches and schools. Community members are invited to both participate in the agriculture and to visit and make use of the area. The individual plots are certainly ‘owned’ by those who work them, either through a formal leasing arrangement or informally in that the individuals who work those plots are protective of them.

What I have noticed is the strong sense of place created in these urban farms. It is this strong sense of place and that these areas are, by in large, open to the broader public that makes me think these are places and not spaces.

Fig 32: A small urban farm in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD
Fig 33: A large urban farm in Portugal
Swanson Street vege boxes Guimarães city farm 1

In summary, urban farms are places whose primary function is urban agriculture, which facilities social interactions between the participants.

Urban nature

These are areas set aside primarily for conservation in urban areas but allow public access, either uncontrolled or controlled via fences, paths, signage etc. These aren’t nature reserves with high fences around them to keep people out: these are natural areas that are integrated into the urban fabric. Smaller pieces of urban nature in neighbourhoods become important to many locals who visit these sites and often get involved in their on-going management, often through the formation of so-called ‘friends of’ groups. In this way, these people create a strong sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, these places. This is the sense of place that emerges here.

Urban nature places can also be very large parks located within a city and not on the fringes, where the users are from all over the city. Whilst conservation is a key purpose of the park, human uses are also catered for often in special developed pockets set with a natural setting (Fig 35).

Figure 34: Small urban nature place in a suburb if Perth
Fig 35: A popular elevated walkway in Kings Park, a large mostly natural park in the center of Perth.
Aubin-Grove-urban-bush-4 Kings_Park__Kings Park walkway 3

Whilst conservation is the primary use of the place, significant complimentary human uses is also allowed, which will inevitably compromise the conservation outcome achieved. The loss of conservation value is offset by enhanced social values.

In summary, urban nature places are areas of mostly remnant vegetation set within an urban context that are managed for conservation but allow significant complimentary human uses.

Claimed places within spaces

As noted earlier, Public Places are different from Public Spaces by having regular users who have built a sense of ownership for the place through frequent social interactions. I’ll cover the types of Public Spaces in detail in my next blog. However, specific locations within some public spaces can attract regular users and social interactions increases. These become places within spaces, or ‘claimed places”.

Two examples are shown below. Fig 36 shows the entrance to Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, which is a regular meeting place. The rest of the footpath is nothing special, and classifies as a space. Fig 37 shows public seating in a street that is an otherwise either a simple space or an acquired non-space (see the blog after the next)

Fig 36: The footpath in front of Flinders Street Station – A claimed space within a larger space (a meeting place.
Fig 37: A footpath in Brighton, Adelaide, showing a public seating areas which is a place acquired from the remaining space.
Flinders St Station crowd Brighton foreshore-2

Often places are acquired when certain infrastructure is provided, especially involving cultural pieces. These places have particular meaning for certain sections of the community, or have significant broader meaning to the whole community. Fig 38 shows a section of a large foreshore reserve in Rockingham that is otherwise a space and not well used. This section is a memorial to the Australian Navy and those who have served in the Navy. Fig 39 shows a section of the Reconciliation Place part of a broader Parliamentary Zone in Canberra.

Fig 38: A section of a larger foreshore reserve dedicated to a memorial to the Australian Navy – an acquired place.
Fig 39: A section of the Reconciliation Place within broader Parliamentary Zone in Canberra – an acquired place with significant cultural meaning
Rockingham Naval reserve-4.jpg reconcilliation park art.jpg

Another example of an acquired place are camping grounds within large spaces like national parks – Fig 40. Many of these have many people who are regular users, and they attain a strong attachment to the place. As well, these places often have significant social interactions between the users at any time.

Fig 40: Contos camping site within the Leeuwin- Naturaliste National Park in WA.
 Contos camping 2.jpg

In summary, acquired places are small section within larger spaces where, either through the provision of certain infrastructure, including cultural, or a convenient location, where people regularly gather and significant social interactions often occur

My categories of open spaces – places and spaces

Bibra Lake Adventure playground-4.jpg

Overview and clarifying terminology

Terminology is important here as I have made a clear distinction between ‘place’ and ‘space’, It makes the use of the term ‘open space’ as the overall descriptor problematic. As well, the term ‘open’ is also problematic when used to describe public non-places, because they a certainly not always open to the public for use – e.g. shopping malls will have opening and closing times – and some – for example shopping malls – are enclosed and not open to the weather. So, what term should be used as the generic descriptor in this context? At this point I don’t have a simple term, so I will use the rather clumsy but accurate term ‘public places and spaces’, and avoid the temptation to make it an acronym.

The notion of ‘public’ here is not about tenure or ownership, but relates to the public being able to use a place or space, even though the access to it is controlled by a private interest.

My categories or types of places and spaces

In my first blog, I identified three broad types of places and spaces:

  • A public place – which is owned publicly, has regular users who have a certain sense of ownership and private geography. Social interactions are common here;
  • A public space – which is owned publicly, is frequently used by passer-byer’s who don’t really have a sense of ownership and there is a very weak sense of private geography; and
  • A public non-place – which is generally privately owned, is created for people who want to use the primary service of the owner, and this space is somewhere to wait or pass through. These places have little sense of ownership by the users, and favour solitary behaviour over social interactions.

This is a very coarse categorization and not very useful, and a more detailed categorization is required. A typical approach would be to review the literature, and whilst this should provide an outcome with some academic rigour, I have adopted a more direct and observational approach. Over the past 10 or so years, when I became deeply interested in places and spaces as an academic, I have visited and photographed many examples from all over Perth (my home city), other cities in Australia, and many cities overseas as part of my travels. I have countless photographs and memories to draw on, and this is a much more interesting way to think about places and spaces rather than reading endless academic articles on the subject. My understanding of how to categorise places and spaces has been, in part, informed by my student, where, as part of my university teachings, I have got my students to think about how to categorise places and spaces. I use an exercise where I have shown students photographs of 96 different places and spaces I have visited from all over the world, and asked them to work out their own way of categorizing them. Each time I do this there are several themes that are common, but also some interesting differences and innovative ways of categorising places and spaces. The discussion below is informed by both my own observations and thinking, and the thinking of my students.

For the most part, the categories that I have come up with are primarily about a single place or space, where the whole site functions as a single type. Large places and spaces can be heterogeneous and not fit a single type, especially large public places.

The diagram below shows categories I have come up with.

The next three blogs will give more details of each category based on the three broad types.

specific types public places and spaces


Welcome to my blog

I’ve been doing research into public open space for several years now, mostly into active open space – i.e. active sporting fields. (if you would like to read about this research in more detail you can go to my website – click here for the link).

More recently, I’ve become interested in the broader topic of open space planning. This blog will allow me to explore the issues and ideas around this topic.

Firstly, I should explore what is meant, and covered, by the  term ‘public places and spaces’?

The word ‘public’ does not refer to ownership – i.e. I am not just referring to what has been typically  called ‘pubic open space’ – i.e. reserve owned and managed by governments. “Public’ means spaces and places that are accessed by the public, and whilst this will mostly be  ‘pubic open space’ – neighbourhood parks, playing fields, conservation reserves, coastal & river foreshore etc – it also refers to privately owned spaces – for example shopping centres/malls.

At this point, it is worth digressing to discuss the difference between these two notions of publicly owned and privately owned places and spaces, and also to draw some distinction between spaces and places. To this end, I will refer to Marc Auge’s essay called Non-places: An introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (translated by John Howe).

First the notion of place. Auge says this of ‘place’ –

… a place: the one occupied by the indigenous inhabitants who live in it, cultivate it, defend it, mark its strong points and keep its frontiers under surveillance, but who also detect in it traces of … ancestors or spirits which populate and animate its private geography … (P42)

Whilst it is clear that Auge is referring to a broader notion of place – i.e. where one lives – this idea fits well with the notion of public places as used in this discussion. Here, the “indigenous inhabitants” are the regular users of then place, who have a sense of ownership and responsibility for it and a certain sense of “private geography” will emerge. This strong sense of belonging can only (or perhaps is most likely to) occur if the place is in public ownership. As well, these places are locations where the activities carried out there are the purpose for the place’s existence. This is a significant point – i.e. a public place is about what goes on there. This is quite different from what Auge calls ‘non-places’

Non-places have three characteristics. First, they have a specific purpose or provide a specific service in relation to a different and private function – for example a transit lounge at an airport, a train station, a shopping mall. People don’t choose to go to these places, but visit them because of some other purpose. The private owner decides to create these places because they want their customers to enjoy the overall experience of the primary service – travelling, hoping etc. Second, inter-personal contact is likely to be superficial and in-passing, which tends to favour solidarity rather than socialising. People in those places are merely waiting for the primary service to begin. Third, these places have much stronger “instructions for use” (p96), especially prohibitions. There is a greater sense that the owner is in-charge of things rather than the user – the recent moves by Qantas to improve the dress code in the Qantas club lounges is an example – see this link. In general, then, ‘non-places’ are privately owned and allow the public to wait for the primary service to become available.

So, how is a space different from a place?

Auge uses the term ‘space’ in land use planning sense as what we was humans create as part of city building. It can refer to open space but also to more person items like houses, rooms, offices etc. Spaces are the more concrete things that define a space/place – structures like walls, fences, play equipment and the area that defines the space’s dimensions, location and characteristics.

I’ll now turn to the use of ‘space’ in the ‘open space’ context. A ‘space’, with its emphasis on what physically defines it, is less “occupied by the indigenous inhabitants” than a place, with a weaker sense of belonging felt by its users. It is somewhere between a place and a non-place: it is a publicly owned asset freely available to the public, but with a much weaker sense of ‘private geography’. A footpath and a large city square best meet that definition.

So, we have three broad types of ‘public places and spaces’

  • A public place – which is owned publicly, has regular users who have a certain sense of ownership and private geography. Social interactions are common here;
  • A public space – which is owned publicly, is frequently used by passer-byer’s who don’t really have a sense of ownership and there is a very weak sense of private geography;
  • A public non-place – which is generally privately owned, is created for people who want to use the primary service of the owner and this space somewhere to wait or pass through. These places have little sense of ownership by the users, and favour solitary behaviour over social interactions.

In my next blog, I will discuss these three broad types in more detail.