Fear and Fantasy in the Public Domain: The Development of Secured and Themed Urban Space

Rianne Van Melik, Irina Van Aalst & Jan Van Weesep

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Van Melik, R. , Van Aalst, I. & Van Weesep, J. (1). Fear and Fantasy in the Public Domain: The Development of Secured and Themed Urban Space. Journal of Urban Design, 12(1), 25–42. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13574800601071170

Current projects to upgrade public spaces in Western cities seek to produce secured space by improving safety and decrease feelings of fear, and to produce themed space by promoting urban entertainment or fantasy. This study examines how ‘fear’ and ‘fantasy’ influence urban design and management of two public spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It traces social antecedents for the development of secured and themed public space, such as a growing differentiation of urban lifestyles, and proposes a new technique for analysing public spaces. The case studies differ in design and management: one is secured, the other themed. However, each secured space contains an element of ‘fantasy’, and each themed space an element of ‘fear’.

Main finding
The research finds two prevalent directions in public space - secured/'fear' where the the promotion of a sense of safety is paramount in the design and management of public space or themed/'fantasy' that are venues for special events, shopping, and pavement cafe´s. As public spaces become safer and provide more entertainment due to consumer preferences, they are also being homogenized. Social dynamics and spatial change are intertwined, the urban landscape in general and public space in particular constitutes an important source of knowledge about society.

Description of method used in the article
To what extent can the Beurstraverse and Schouwburgplein be classified as either secured or themed public space? The percepts of ‘fear’ and ‘fantasy’ have been specified by identifying six quantifiable and observable dimensions: three related to secured public space ( surveillance, restraints, regulation) and three to themed public space (events, funshopping, pavement cafes). Each one becomes a variable when subdivided into three levels of intensity: low (L), medium (M) and high (H).

Theoretically interesting

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Case Study
Physical types
Geographic locations