Public Space and Local Diversity: The Case of North East England

Timothy Guy Townshend & A. Madanipour

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Townshend, T. G. & Madanipour, A. (1). Public Space and Local Diversity: The Case of North East England. Journal of Urban Design, 13(3), 317–328.

For much of the last quarter of the 20th century debates on the state of public spaces in the UK concentrated on issues of neglect and abandonment. New public spaces, increasingly developed by private developers were of equal concern, seen simultaneously as creating privatized, socially exclusive enclaves and characterless ‘anywhere’ regeneration schemes, filled with the same retail outlets, coffee shops and anonymous pieces of public art. This paper addresses this latter concern of homogenization, examining the dynamics behind it and exploring whether local diversity can thrive in the face of such pressure. The paper further reports on a research project that was conducted on a series of prominent public spaces in North East England. The results of this study suggest that the spaces studied are far from passive recipients of global processes. Not only does the quality and quantity of public space often seem to have improved in the recent past, but that long standing locally significant traditions are thriving and new ones are being developed. So, while homogenization in retailing may be significant and harmful to some traditional shopping streets, it is not necessarily damaging the social and cultural lives of the public spaces in our towns and cities to the degree that may be expected.

Main finding
The research suggests that despite homogenization pressure, local distinctiveness and diversity of places are thriving, More importantly, the research found that people still value public places as spaces of social encounter and this creates a distinct identity over time.

Description of method used in the article
Five case studies were chosen for detailed examination, giving a geographical spread and typological diversity of prominent spaces - Market Place (Alnwick), Millennium Square (Durham), Old Eldon Square/Monument (Newcastle), Esplanade (Redcar), High Street (Stockton).

Policy implications

Organising categories

Economic Transactions Performance/Cultural Expression
Case Study
Urban Design
Physical types
Squares Streets
Geographic locations