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

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