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Social Interaction Activities In Public Spaces Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4354 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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These public spaces are used for various activities based on which the activities can be divided into necessary activities, optional activities, and social activities. Necessary activities include those, which are more or less compulsory – going to school or work, shopping, going to supermarkets, waiting at bus stops or waiting for a person, running errands, distributing mails- in other words, all activities in which those involved are to a greater or lesser degree required to participate. In general, all everyday activities and pastimes are included in this group. The major activities included are most walking related ones. As these activities are necessary ones and will take place throughout the year, under nearly all conditions, and are more or less independent of the exterior environment. The participants have no choice.

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Optional activities – this category includes such activities as taking a walk to get a breath of fresh air, standing around enjoying life, or sitting and sunbathing. These activities can only take place when the weather conditions are favorable. This relationship is particularly important in connection with physical planning because most of the recreational activities that are pleasant to pursue outdoors are found precisely in this category. These activities are especially dependent on exterior physical conditions.

Social activities are those that depend on the presence of others in the public spaces. Social activities may include children at play, people greeting each other, a lot of communal activities. Simply seeing and talking to each other are also included in this category.

Public spaces are of vital importance because they shape peoples experience about understanding the city and of the culture. They become the city’s identity. Lawrence halprin describes this process: ‘our collective perception of cities depends on the landscape of open spaces. In our imagination of cities it is these open spaces that we remember. They are the places where people congregate to walk and shop and picnic, to play and bicycle and drive. It is these places that we use and in which we encounter each other and participate in that communal life we call “city”.’ ( Halprin, 1981, p.4)

This is a result of the way people use the city, the way they commute or travel around the city, the placement of major civic and public institutions, social and gathering spaces, ceremonial spaces, location of significant public events, and spaces for recreation and leisure. These places are an expression of the public culture of a city like the way pubic institutions are. They demonstrate the relationship between the state and the citizens and express the culture’s urban values. Pubic space plays an important role in the city’s social and environmental life.

Public space is often mistaken as the space between two buildings or, merely the all the remaining spaces and street corners. Initially no thought was given to the planning of public spaces, buildings were considered more important. After placing all the structures and important buildings the remaining area was converted to public space. Buildings were considered as the life of cities and were made iconic. Lot of money, manpower and energy was spent in the make of an iconic structure. But an iconic building cant make a city iconic. What makes a city iconic are its public and open spaces and when these public spaces are actively used by people they add to the additional value.

A public space is named public because of the people using it. It belongs to the public of that area or city. Everyone are free to use it and don’t have to pay any entrance fee to use or access it. It is a place where people from all caste, culture, religion and age can come, sit or take advantage of. I believe that public space should be a place for everyone and that a place should not be defined by its designer, but by its user. Currently many public spaces are impersonal with little thought into the facilities offered for the people who use it. If local people do not feel connected to a place it decays and social interaction around the place is lost. The aim is to create engaging places; increases the enjoyment people have in those spaces; or add something to existing locations in order to encourage a positive response to that space where people interact with the environment and with each other.

Elements of a public space.

Any public space gets affected by a number of factors. There are reasons why a particular space is formed or you may say redesigned. Some spaces such as public squares or plazas were formed in the early 18th or early 19th century due to the revolution taking place. The main purpose behind creating these public spaces was that people could gather here during times of trouble or any event. Also these squares were centrally located so people could access them from anywhere plus they represented the city’s history, culture and became iconic sites of the cities. They became one of the most visited tourist destinations. The centre square mostly contained important art or statues of the person responsible for the cities reform and formation. Some of them were formed due to the political scene of the city. During election times some party made some good public spaces. Some public spaces like street markets, parks, centre squares were formed or designed taken into account the city’s social and cultural scene. While some of street markets were just formed by the local people or the community living there marking the culture of the space. Some spaces were just formed due to the city’s demands and needs. Other factors which affect or make a public space are streets, climate, interaction, furniture, shopping, culture, playfulness, rally’s, religions, money, demonstrations, events, material, health, legislation, policies, law and order, housing schemes, security, environment, crime scenes, government policies, art, architecture, construction details, local community and last but not the least people.

In short the main factors which affect any public space are listed below:

Political: mostly during countries reform or some election events and rally’s

Economic: the countries development affects its public space. Developed countries have different public spaces whereas developing ones have a different notion and atmosphere of public space.

Cultural: the countries culture affects the public space the most. It’s mostly reflected in the appearance of the public space.

Social: the people living there are to ones which make their public spaces. It’s said that people space their space and then in return the space shapes the people around.

London as a cultural hub.

From being home to many national treasures, museums, libraries, galleries and universities, London is also a centre for global and contemporary culture. London attracts many visitors for its popular and creative culture and also for its interactive informal exciting spaces. For example, you will see artists plating live music in most of the underground stations, there’s live music going at Camden markets and other street markets. Also many stores and bookshops keep on holding any events and fares to attract customers. It’s a city which makes people’s visit even more interesting, interactive, fun and makes every visit of theirs worthwhile. When compared to the other cities around the world, London leads with an impressive count.

London is the largest city in Europe, with a dramatic variation of people from all ages and cultures offering a huge amount of design opportunities. Population of London is approximately 7 million. London has a diverse range of population, which comprises people from Asia, China, and Europe and also from the states. London also shows diversity in age of this population. You find young school going children, to university graduates, mid age office crowd and also a large number of old retired people.

Also you will find a number of school, colleges, universities spread all around London. Because of which it has become a hub for students and learning. Also many international companies have their headquarters here, which make it business hub. The political scene in London appears to be quite stable. Thus all the above factors like, diverse culture, economic opportunities, age ratio, political stability, have made a huge impact on the public life and public places.

Table 1.1 major cultural indicators (source: cultural audit, 2009)



New York




No. Of public galleries






No. Of specialist art HE institutions






No. Of national museums






No. Of other museums






UNESCO world heritage sites






No. Of public libraries






Table 1.2 creative industries indicators ( source: cultural audit, 2009)



New York




No. Of music venues






Music performances per year






Theatrical performances per yr






No. Of theatres & concert halls






No. Of cinemas






No. Of bookshops






No. Of nightclubs, discos etc






No. O festivals.






Social interaction: important element of public spaces.

They are our streetscapes and promenades

According to us gardens, parks, squares are all the spaces that make a public space. This belief is not incorrect but has to transform. We need to widen our views and think of the bigger picture. We conveniently forget about the streets, paths and the roads on which we travel everyday or rather use daily. We don’t consider the above ones as public spaces, but if looked in detailed these are the ones, which are used publicly the most. We don’t appreciate but these spaces offer a great deal to our lives than any other spaces. These streets and pathways is where maximum interaction takes place. Meeting people, talking to each other, greeting one another, flirting, talking over the phone while waiting for the bus, queuing at he bus stop, all these activities leads to interaction and takes place on the streets, pathway, and bus stops which we generally use for walking, travelling and to reach out to our final destination.

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All we expect from these connecting spaces is a flat paved area to walk on, a dustbin, sometimes a bench to sit to munch on a sandwich or sip coffee. A place where maximum interaction takes place offers us very little in terms of services and activities. All the attention is mostly given to the redesigning and improvement of parks, squares and the everyday active streets and pathways are always neglected. These spaces have always been overlooked and taken granted for.

The streets and pathways become like a lunch place for those who don’t have time to go to a restaurant and for those who’s lunch just comprises of grabbing a sandwich and eating on the streets or the bus stops. Even with many coffee shops or restaurant options we still like to munch on the noisy streets or sip coffee looking at the people pass by. The main reason behind this is that we love people, we like to watch people, we like interaction. Even though we eat alone on the streets the sense of people being around makes us feel less lonely.

Generally, these spaces whish are used daily have been neglected by the government and remain unimproved. It’s the local community or some private organizations or simply the people residing in the nearby areas, which come ahead and make arrangements to make these spaces better. They make a sincere effort to convert these unpleasant under walks to cleaner, brighter and fresher places. Pleasant spaces that make our daily commuting journey memorable. Same way if the government looked into this matter and offered more to people using them, it would not only make our journey pleasant but also would make it healthier. For example, if the streets and pathways are made better by putting new paving, made wider, installed with street furniture where people can sit, talk with each other, munch a sandwich or sip coffee, it would encourage people to walk down the corner or use cycles instead of cars for shorter distance, in a way also helping in a healthier, greener environment. A small change can make a big impact on our lives. Same way making small changes on our everyday streets and pathways can have a huge impact on our lives. They would make our journeys memorable, pleasurable and healthier.

Below are some case studies where streets and pathways are considered as public spaces and redesigned taking people into account and offering them what they demand for.

‘People are better than no people’

The above saying is said by an old woman counting her last breaths at a hospital bed, surrounded by a few nurses and a doctor she said ‘ people are better than no people.’ Even during her last few hours she wished for people, she wished someone was there at her side during her last few hours. She wished her people were there beside her to make her feel secure and comfortable. Even though she couldn’t talk much she longed to see her loved ones. Just the sight of a few nurses and the doctor made her comfortable and secure even during the most dreadful moment. She said even if we aren’t in talking terms with some of our loved ones just a sight of them is worth it than staying alone and dying a lonely death.

It applies the same way to others also, to share our happiness, to exchange the bad news in the most dreadful of all moments, in loneliness, in life and death we need people around. Even if not to share, the visual sight of people being around or just a person around makes us breathe a sign of relief. More than the need or necessity it’s the psychological factor because of which we long to see people or just a person around and need some physical contact. Hence more than the need, necessity and longing it’s the psychology and human behavior that leads us to talk to other people and interact. Socializing, communicating or meeting other people has a lot of other advantages than just the psychological factor. Firstly the good part is that we interact and talk to people, talking to other people teaches us a lot of things. We express our thoughts, our feelings, and our views. We share our happiness and sadness; we share our grief’s and beliefs. They say that our happiness multiplies when shared with someone, while our grief minuses when told to someone. Great ideas come from others, same way, talking to others, sharing views leads to some new innovation everyday. Speaking to someone we acquire knowledge about a lot of things before unknown to us, like, we learn new things about the city, about the culture, history of the city. We understand new traditions and cultures. We get to know people from diverse cultures and their ideas about life, philosophy and lifestyle. We gain knowledge about the daily happenings, city status, country status, the latest news, political and social endeavors, weather updates, season changes, news about social events, sports activities, background information and many other things. Finding out new things or getting to know about the happenings increases excitement in us. A research also shows that talking to people reduces stress and tension. Refrence. Apart from acquiring knowledge a lot of other things are also learnt from interaction, like, we laugh, we inspire, we get inspired, we share, we learn, listen, we fight, we pray, we hope and the most important thing is we care. All these emotions are very important to lead a healthy, happy and normal life.





It all started with giving something more to people than they actually deserved, especially at spaces which they used daily. These spaces were not parks or gardens but spaces like the streets, pathways which people used daily to travel, walk and reach their destination. Spaces were maximum interaction takes place unintentionally and which still have the capability to give more. Spaces where maximum people are already present, and all you have to do is give them some character, some urge, some environment, some force to interact.

For the same I couldn’t think of a place other than a local bus stop. A bus stop is one such place, which is accessed by one and all. It’s a connecting or you may say a waiting point for people going to work, children travelling to school, people going to church, people going for grocery shopping or any other social activities. It’s a waiting hub for a diverse range of people. You see people from different cultures, different age groups, different communities and religion waiting for a single purpose called commuting. Where you have so many people around and waiting, why not provide some interesting features and make their wait fun? Why not create an environment which forces people to interact, to talk to each other? Thinking on the same lines, it was possible to make peoples journey more fun, more interesting and more exciting. A wait in an environment where people interact with each other without realizing they are forced to do so.

For the same, the bus stop chosen was a local one called ‘ Christchurch’ located near the ealing broadway tube station, west London. This bus stop is on the uxbridge road and is the closest to the mall, church, tube station, shopping stores, banks etc. Plus all the buses travelling towards uxbridge make a stop here. It’s the centre of all the major activities, filled with people waiting for the bus almost at any time of the day.

A live survey was done at the same bus stop al day long for three consecutive days.

Busiest being the morning hours from 8.00 am to 10.00 am and the evenings from 5.30 pm to 7.00 pm. The mornings and evenings at the mentioned time above you usually see a lot of office crowd, and the rest of the day specially at noon hours you meet a lot of old people.

After interviewing most of the people it was found that waiting at the bus stop had been one of their major and daily activities. Specially the older people, their routine considers of going to the bus stop, then grocery store, then back to bus stop and then back home. The main reason of having this routine is meeting people at the grocery store, having some kind of interaction with at least the sales person or even with come of them at the bus stop.




Examples of good public spaces

Millennium Park

Various designers

Chicago, USA (2005)

Millennium Park is a massive 10-hectare project based in Chicago at a central location is a combination of art, architecture and landscape design as a single public space design. It was a 450 million dollar budget, centrally located and can be used as a public event space or even as an informal space. It’s a major destination for all recreational activities. The project was created with an initial idea to create a green park to block the unattractive railway lines and car parks, which had strewn the lakefront. These tracks and car parks were seen since the city had neglected the lake and its development. A simple project, which has turned out to be the most ambitious project in USA and one of the most successful public spaces in terms of aesthetics and the use by people. A perfect park with a blend of space, form and function, which bring people together for recreation, interaction and fun contributing to a healthier life.

The park has different elements designed by great architects and artists. Like at the centre of the park is a pavilion designed by Frank Gehry, which is used as an outdoor space for events, concerts and other social gatherings. It consists of a proscenium surrounded by Gehry’s trademark curves of stainless steel with a large steel trellis spanning the entire auditorium. Connected to the pavilion is the first bridge project which spans from Columbus drive, linking millennium park to daley bicentennial plaza and Chicago lakefront system. Connecting all the major points, and people can take a walk through all. Another interesting element is an elliptical jellybean shaped sculpture by Artist Anish Kapoor, a graduate from University of Arts London, and his first public project in USA.its called the bean because its shape is like a bean. The elliptical jelly is inspired by the liquid mercury, and made of steel, so it reflects the city, clouds and people. Its makes us look at our feel that we are responsible for our city, our people, and the environment we live in. It’s also a way to showcase the beautiful Chicago skyline and weather with people along.

Another sculpture is a crown fountain designed by artist Laume Plensa, from Spain. The fountain comprises of black granite reflecting pool, placed between two glass block towers. The glass block towers are 15.24m high and at each end of the reflecting pool. They display graphic animation videos and photos, which are constantly changing with the help of LED lights. This was one of the most notable works done by artist Laume Plensa, and is highly successful. It took about 18 million dollars to build this fountain, but the good thing is that it encouraged physical interaction between people and water. Most of the pictures and videos displayed on the tower are mostly of people from Chicago. So most of the people come to see this fountain hoping to see themselves on the tower. It’s a perfect public play area, an interaction space and also an area to beat the heat during summers.

Another interesting element is the garden located near the pavilion designed by the team of Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel. The garden is a combination of architecture, planning and lighting. The garden contains a variety of spaces, which helps people enjoy and encourages interaction. It contains small and large spaces, pedestrian areas, pathways etc. that invites more and more people.

The millennium park is a perfect blend of pavilions, bridges, parks, sculpture, and art designed by various and famous artists and architects from all around the globe. It’s a park which has all activities going on, thanks to the different elements present in it, like the pavilion, the elliptical bean shaped sculpture, the fountain, garden, and the bridge. With elements all over it attracts people and encourages interaction, being a perfect communities space. Though it contains sculpture and structures been designed taking into account peoples need, city’s demand, environment, atmosphere but also doesn’t neglect aesthetics.


3RW Architects

Bergen, Norway

This public space was designed by local architects called 3RW architects and is situated in the Norwegian city of Bergen. This space was initially a car park, which used to be dusty in summer, filled with puddles in rains and slippery in winter. It needed a practical solution and redesigning hence it was decided to cover the whole area with concrete surface. This plaza is used as an artist workshop and also as a restaurant. During the redesign the clients initially wanted a stepped plaza, but the architects convinced to have a sloping concrete surface. They made it as a concrete surface so that it would be rough enough and be less slippery especially during the wet icy weather. A special arrangement is made during winters, heating elements were laid under the concrete so the ice melts and can be used as a public area no matter any weather conditions. This plaza also leads to the cultural centre. Concrete was laid in a grid of 16ft X 16ft and fitted with corten steel strips to create dividers and make shallow gaps. To help make this place interesting at night fibre optics were put into two glass boxes in concrete. An architectural solution to help people use the public space any time they needed to enjoy the weather, have some recreation, interaction and fun. A space to near the water body, a calm restaurant invites many people and helps to promote social interaction.

New public spaces

The growth of community – led projects is creating public space that has a very local and specific uses related to local needs and physical qualities and features of their local environment.

“Give the people something different”

Serpentine pavilion

Kensington garden, London.

Serpentine pavilion is a different kind of public space, situated in Kensington gardens in London. Kensington garden is a huge park with people visiting at all times. To make it more exciting and invite more people


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