Blog 5 – Categories of Public non-spaces

Below is the figure showing my categories of public non-spaces:

Public non spaces.jpg

As noted in my first blog, 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.

Please note that all photographs are taken my me, unless otherwise attributed (e.g. from Google Earth).

Close shopping centres

The primary purpose for visiting these shopping centres (called shopping malls in some countries) is for the purchase of goods and services. The typical overall design involves having a main building surrounded by a large parking lot, meaning that the main access is via car. This design has been modified in recent years (see below) but this main design still dominates.

Importantly, it’s the inside of the main building that act as public space. Access to these buildings is controlled by the centre owner/manager, with opening hours strictly controlled. The majority of the retail outlets in the centre can only be accessed from inside the centre, although outlets with extended trading needs, for example pharmacies, are situated near entrances and have access to them from both the outside and inside.

The design of the internal space is what is of interest here. In general, it consists of one, or a few, wide spaces connected to the entry points by narrower transit ways. The wider spaces are generally food halls (Fig 1), which is where people tend to stop and where the social interaction occur. The transit-ways are primarily for walking (Fig 2), although there is occasional seating and quieter spaces provided where people can rest (Fig 3).

Fig 1: A food hall
Fig 2: Transit-way
Carousel foodhall (1 of 1).jpg Carousel concierge (1 of 1).jpg

These transitways often have small kiosk-type retail outlet or pop-up stalls (Fig 4)

Fig 3: Quite resting space within a transitway
Fig 4: Small kiosk within a transit way
Carousel fill space (1 of 1).jpg Carousel kiosk shop 2 (1 of 1).jpg

As these spaces are privately owned, access to them tightly regulated, and behaviour also tightly controlled through the use of security guards, there is generally a lack of sense of place in shopping centres. The owner also controls the design of the space, with little, if any, consultation with the users: people are seen as customers rather than users and the internal spaces are designed to encourage shopping.

For the most part, visits to shopping centres are seen as functional – i.e. for shopping – although, as mentioned above, food-halls and cafes offer the opportunity for socialising. However, in extreme weather events – heat waves and cold snaps – people may choose to visit shopping centres purely for social reasons as shopping centres have climate control and offer relief from the extreme weather.

In summary, shopping centres are highly regulated privately owned spaces that are popular destinations for people to primarily carry out shopping, but some of the internal spaces and retail outlets allow for limited socialising. There is generally a very limited sense of place that develop in these spaces.

It’s worth noting that in some cases, shopping centres are adding a ‘main street’ retail strips, which are open areas and with two rows of retail outlets either side of a road (Figs 5 and 6). These retails outlets are often food related and operate for much longer trading hours than the shops within the centre proper. The road is accessible all the time, so, in effect, these operate as open malls – see previous post.

Fig 5: Aerial view of Rockingham City Shopping Centre with added on ‘main street’ in the north east corner
Fig 6: Street view of Rockingham City Shopping Centre ‘main street’
Rock City aerila.jpg Rock City main street.jpg

Transport Stations

Like shopping centres, these spaces are privately owned and highly functional – they are spaces for people to wait to either catch a train or bus, or to wait for someone to arrive. Typically, they are large enclosed spaces – for example Fig 7, which is the Florence train station.

The transport stations that attract large numbers of people, often have retail outlets, especially fast food, within them – Fig 8.

Fig 7: Florence train station
Fig 8: Copenhagen train station with a Macdonald’s
Florence train station.jpg Copenhagen railway station 2.jpg

As with shopping centres, there is generally a lack of sense of place that develops in transport stations, even though there are many visitors.

Notwithstanding this, these stations, especially train stations, are often important, well known and easy to get to locations, and the open space areas in the front of the stations become important meeting places – Figs 9 and 10.

Fig 9: Open space in front of the Central train station in Amsterdam – a popular meeting place
Fig 10: The wide footpath in front of the Flinders Street train station in Melbourne – also a popular meeting place
Amsterdam-Central Station.jpg Flinders St Station crowd.jpg

I have used the word ‘place’ here very deliberately as this community acceptance that these spaces are for meeting creates a real sense of place – a ‘meeting’ sense of place. They are equivalent to Town Squares (Amsterdam) or streets (the footpath in front of the Flinders Street train station).

Acquired non-spaces

These are, in effect, locations within an otherwise public space that have become privatised or commercialised. Typically, these are areas of public footpaths adjacent to cafés and restaurants that are used for out-door dining. In effect, to get access to these locations visitors have to pay (i.e. order food and/or drinks), and the non-paying public is excluded (Figs 11 and 12).

Figs 11 and 12: Acquired non-spaces on footpaths for paid outdoor dining
Adelaide street footpaths-2.jpg Athens cafe on lane.jpg

Areas of town squares and other public parks are also acquired in this way – Fig 13 and 14 – with the worst example if have seen is in Dordrecht in Holland where the only remaining un-acquired space is a walkway – Fig 15.

Figs 13 and 14: Acquired spaces in town squares and other public parks (Porto and the foreshore in Esperance, WA)
Porto street cafe 3.jpg Esperance Tanker Jetty Beach Coffee cart.jpg


Figs 15: A Town square in Dordrecht that is almost completed acquired for outdoor dining

Another example of acquired space is when private land owners adjacent to public open spaces place their private infrastructure within the space and use it for their own private purposes – Figs 17 and 18.

Fig 17: A resident using the adjacent public reserve to locate play equipment (Bunbury WA)
Fig 18: Boats creating an acquired space by being stored within a public foreshore in Lake Macquarie, NSW
soft edge bush bunb 2.JPG Lake MacQuarie foreshore-2.jpg

In some cases, land owners remove the fence which delineates the public/private boundary making the acquiring process more subtle and difficult to detect – Fig 19.

Fig 19: Residences adjacent to a foreshore Reserve in Smithton Tasmania and one property owner removing the property boundary fence, effectively acquiring a portion of the public reserve
Smithton estuary foreshore fringing houses.jpg

In summary, acquired non-spaces are areas within public open space that have become privatised for either commercial or private use, effectively excluding the broader public.

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