Marginal public spaces in European cities

Ali Madanipour

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Madanipour, A. (1). Marginal public spaces in European cities. Journal of Urban Design, 9(3), 267–286.

The main public spaces in European cities are the focus of much attention, whereas marginal public spaces are places of neglect and decline. The concentration of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in limited spaces creates a sense of entrapment. The social fragments that have been put next to each other in deprived neighbourhoods, either by market forces or by public planning, start to crack in public places of these neighbourhoods. On the one hand, intensive use of space by some groups excludes and intimidates others. On the other hand, the limited amount of public space is under the threat of encroachment by other demands on a finite commodity. In these places of fragmentation and competition, communication is often difficult, if not impossible, as different social groups speak different languages, have different attitudes and have different frameworks. A public space that allows this diversity to become aware of itself through free expression can be a significant asset for such a diverse population. Improving public places can improve the actual conditions of life in these neighbour- hoods, while injecting a sense of hope and a better image in the eyes of residents and the outside world. Although a key part of good governance, there is no doubt that this should be put in perspective, as one among a number of issues that need addressing.

Main finding
This article supports the important role of good-quality, well managed public spaces facilitating the social integration of the disadvantaged residents by catering for the daily needs of households, providing places to meet and communicate with others and developing a symbolic value which could create a sense of emotional attachment to the neighbourhood and the city. However the article also notes that the acute and multi-dimensional vulnerabilities of weaker social groups can turn the public spaces of disadvantaged neighbourhoods into sites of conflict and disorder. The author contends that the best public spaces are the most flexible ones, which can be used for a variety of purposes and use good-quality and durable designs and materials.

Description of method used in the article
Case studies were conducted of disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the cities of Amsterdam (Netherlands), Athens (Greece), Cascais (Portugal), Dublin (Ireland), Helsingør (Denmark), London (UK), Newcastle (UK), Stockholm (Sweden), Turin (Italy) and Wuppertal (Germany). Residents, professionals and others with an interest or involvement in the neighbourhood were interviewed about their views and experiences of the area’s public spaces.

Policy implications

Organising categories

Case Study
Urban Planning
Physical types