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Development of Public Spaces in Urban Areas

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Geography
Wordcount: 1943 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Cities have always been elusive but the main goal of the city is to give people, the places where they can find tranquillity and help them engage with one another yet providing them with a freedom of thoughts and own identity. People sphere is the domain in which all this can easily be found and exercised. Public spaces form an important role where people can come together, exchange ideas, romanticise with one another, protest for a cause, form a new friendship, learn skills, and share knowledge, emotions and music. It’s a dimension of space where various activities take place at a different time because it is the only place in the city where all the emotions, feelings, the subjectivity of human being is expressed in numerous variations. People from different climate and culture come together to form the public sphere and thus create places that reflect their collective needs.

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In 1961, Jane Jacob in her book ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’ mentioned that “Cities have the capabilities of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created for everybody.” This was based on the fact that cities are for people. Many of the early/classical urban thinkers used simple observation and common sense. Jane Jacob, for example, suggested that cities need to have public spaces, mixed uses, dense concentration, buildings with different age and dimensions and short walkable blocks. Two decades later in 1980, William H. Whyte in his book “The social life of small urban spaces” which was a pre-book to the project: The Street life Project, tried to understand the lifestyle of people in different urban spaces and why some spaces are successful over other spaces in New York. He suggested how those spaces can be improvised with policies, design and planning. Both famously accepted urbanist, Jacob and Whyte’s approach towards urban planning and design was a revolutionary step for the city’s development and growth in the past- world war era. Both believed that cities are actually for the people and the city spaces belong to people. The commonality amongst both the urbanist is that they understood the importance of public space in a city.

Indeed, the fundamental aim of the public space is to protect and combine community. The public space is where we exercise our dealership, our sense of belongingness and our sense of existence. Public spaces should allow freedom for people to come and go wherever they want to explore. The activities that are formed within the sphere of public space are understood at collective as well as an individual’s perspective but participation in both cases is random and institutionalized. From Greek agora to Central Park to Washington square park of New York, the public spaces have always been a canvas for political and social change. Demonstration of this change, one can say that the public realm is an important factor of an ever-changing landscape. The firmness of open space is one of the factors. A large public monument of one period with an open usable space may become a public square in another period, regardless of the shifts in the urban fabric during the interim. Sometimes the changing landscape of public spaces shows the dynamic nature and potential of public space in its third dimension carved out of the solid of the built fabric.

It has a direct link with the history as the old squares and plazas of cities are continuously being used. The public places are formulated within the city boundaries with the help of urban planning. Whether space is used for playing football or for protesting the public space is a need for all individuals for better living. The presence and survival of public space

since the time of Harappa Civilization gives us proof of togetherness and collectiveness embodied in the communities. In the 21st century, we have discarded the sense of togetherness which can be highlighted in today’s public spaces and discussed further.

Philosophers, Planners, Architects, Designers, Artist, Painters and others who tried to understand cities have a notion that public space is at the heart or the core of any city and people are the most important part of those public spaces and also the fuels that keeping that space alive. Humans are highly sociable species; a company of others seems to be a fundamental belief to our existence and belonging.

Historically public places around the world, including New York City, had been built as a place for exchange for trade, and later on, became the places where individuals of various social groups began to come together for a different purpose. Today We will further discuss the essential point while taking a case of ‘Washington Square Park’ in New York City. Washington square park itself went through different transformation before it became a park. As I have said earlier, it’s an ever-changing landscape and it keeps on evolving and developing. Earlier the park was used to burying poor or unknown people- Mostly victims of epidemics such as yellow fever and later on the city bought additional land aiming to develop the area, as a result, the square was levelled, landscaped and officially declared. The journey was quite interesting from ‘Washington Military Parade Ground’ to ‘Washington Square Park’. Many Cultural and political forces were involved while this transformation. Additionally, the park owes less to the park’s landscaping than to the people who have lived around it. Numerous Political Events, Celebration of Events, Riots and such demonstrations contributed to the emergence of the square. However, the park has a long history which often reflects its economic, political and urban planning issues.

When I first visited this place the first time, huge gigantic arch and the central fountain were my first eye-catching elements. An eclectic mix of musicians, artist, architects, street performers, dancer’s work is displayed in the Washington Park. It has a huge diversity including race, gender, age, etc. The activities start from the day and it shapes according to the climatic condition until the sun goes down. This Park has become iconic as well as a meeting place for cultural activities. The park is an open space surrounded by tall educational as well as residential buildings. It feels like somebody has thoughtfully scooped out the in-between space from this urban fabric which is being used by the people for different purposes throughout the day and night. Additionally, it also serves great importance to the neighbourhood community in Greenwich village. The park has very well maintained flower beds and trees. It includes children’s play areas, paths to stroll on, a chess and scrabble playing area, park benches, picnic tables and two dog runs. In Morning, People generally use this space for walking around the park. And, when the time flies a different kind of notion has been noticed by me. Different kind of people come together and show their artwork, dance or music or poetry work or graphic works and a lot more. Here I have shown two figures showing different activities happening at Washington Square Park. Image-A shows the morning day time activity whereas Image-B shows the evening activities of the park.

Image A:

The image shows the morning activity of the park.

Image B:

The image shows the evening activity at Park during the rally to take actions against corruption by Ms Elizabeth Warren on Sep 16, 2019.

Another Perspective to look at this park was to determine its geometry and its alignment with the respective context. The park is bordered by MacDougal Street, West 4th Street, Waverly Place and New York University Buildings including residential blocks. The accessibility of the park creates a huge impact on people. It directs one to use the space how they want to use. Additionally, I always believe that People, Place and Resources plays an important role while crafting a public place and one needs to choose their tools wisely to intervene in it. The idea of public space is not only a social product but also a prerequisite for a well-functioning is one of the central ideas of urban studies. I have seen people around the world have been gathering in this park and perform different activities. However, there are certain pockets in these parks which are being used by people differently. Those small pockets don’t spark much activity or create a platform for illegal drug dealing activities. Many of the benches near to those areas is being used by poor people as a shelter. These may cause a serious issue to the neighbourhood people who live near to the park.

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Public space, even in their most public form, tends to find particular flavours, different characteristics associated with a particular combination of groups and interests, under pressure to find a fixed identity within society. If public space is equally accessible to everyone, irrespective of physical abilities, age, gender, religion, income level and social status it can be considered as a public space as we observed in Washington square park. Space perfectly forms a balance of ingredients of social cohesion, gender, equality, public health, environment, economic development, and safety it acts as a true public space for all. Indeed, the true form of becoming a publicly public space is achieved when a public space acts as a clay, where each individual is a creator itself, who are continuously re-modifying as how they like it.

To Conclude, Washington square park will be considered for urban renewal and new developments. It will most likely always remain a place for communication and accessible for all. It shows the transformation and changing needs of the urban fabric yet carries its historical importance. Having a top university like NYU in a residential neighbourhood can bring number of benefits to the area. It could increase an area’s cultural and intellectual capital and bring crowd of people that are going to spend money. However, these universities could also disturb those who live around the park. In other words, what universities and other educational institutions do is a great value to the world, region, city, but not necessarily entirely in the interest of their immediate neighbours. Since This park maintains a string relationship to the neighbourhood. Private institutions should recognize the need to treat Washington Square as a more organic space rather than an event space that needs to be reserved officially. Otherwise, the park will turn into a privatized surrogate of pubic space – a programmed space where everything is planned and controlled by the city and park’s officials.

Work Cited:

  • Whyte, William. 1980. “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.” Project for Public Spaces,
  • Ostrom, Elinor. 2009. “A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems.”
  • Schoenbaum, Laura Helene. 1988. “Manhattan’s Washington Square Park: its history, evolution, and prospects for change.”
  • Patel, Shaurya. 2016. “Public Spaces for All: “Public” are Public Spaces? Case of Ahmedabad city’s riverfront park.”


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