Introducing gender to the critique of privatized public space

Kristen Day

Go to article

Day, K. (1). Introducing gender to the critique of privatized public space. Journal of Urban Design, 4(2), 155–178.

Constraining , Privatization

Urban design scholars denounce the recent trend towards the privatization of US public space. Critics emphasize the negative consequences of privatized public space, tied to private ownership, an emphasis on consumption, leisure and security, a targeted audience, and controlled behaviour and design. Yet these key qualities of privatized public spaces have meaning only in the context of one's identity. The same qualities shape experiences of privatized public spaces that can be understood as constrained, as constraining or as a form of resistance, depending on one's gender, race, class and sexuality. This paper challenges the prevailing design critique by examining women's experience of privatized public spaces, drawing on interviews with 43 middle- class women and behavioural mapping in five privatized public spaces in Orange County, California. Recommendations address changes to research and practice to better reflect and accommodate diverse experiences of public space.

Main finding
The articles notes that negative attributes ascribed to modern public life - consumption, passivity and fear - are often particularly constraining for women. It also finds that privatized public spaces often compensate for constraints to women's participation, but may reinforce gender norms and stereotypes. The study concludes that the use of privatized public space for women is often (1) constrained for women, (2) can be constraining for women or (3) may support resistance for women.

Description of method used in the article
In-depth, semi-structured interviews (43 total) with women representing diversity in age, occupation, home or work location and race/ethnicity examined women's use and perception of privatized public spaces in terms of the experience of safety, comfort and welcome as well as behavioural mapping conducted in five privatized public spaces (16, 1 hour segments at each location, evenly representing the day of the week and the time of day) intended to document use of these spaces by gender, age and time in Orange County, California.

Policy implications

Organising categories

Interviews Meta-analysis
Physical types
Geographic locations