Measuring the public realm: A preliminary assessment of the link between public space and sense of community

Talen, E

Talen, E. (2000). Measuring the public realm: A preliminary assessment of the link between public space and sense of community. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 344–360.

How can the connection between public space and sense of community be evaluated? This paper asserts that, as a starting point, the measurement of the physical dimension of public space must be accomplished. Conceptually, the translation between public space and building sense of community, here defined as "the sense of belongingness, fellowship, 'we-ness,' identity, etc., experienced in the context of a [geographically based] collective" (Buckner, 1988:773),1 is seen as consisting of three interrelated dimensions. This paper describes the first dimension, the physical characteristics of public space, by offering a methodology for measuring public space differentials at the neighborhood level. Analysis of public space will thus be facilitated by a better characterization of the public domain: how does one neighborhood have "more" public space than another, constituting what some might view as a superior public realm? The method offered in this paper utilizes a particular vocabulary designed to measure aspects of the public realm which are seen, theoretically, as contributing to increased resident interaction and sense of community. The method builds on the work of Owens (1993) and Southworth and Owens (1993) to provide a practical measure of the "public realm." The goal is to facilitate the discussion of the use, meaning, and role of public space by delineating, in pragmatic terms, the geographic dimension of public life and how it varies from one neighborhood to the next. The basis of this differentiation are the public space design components embedded in new urbanist theory.

Main finding
Spatial distribution, size characteristics, residential grain and transport environment are all relevant metrics for quantifying public space. There were significant differences between the three neighborhoods studied, though not in a consistent pattern. The older traditional neighborhoods featured a finer residential grain and more streets and sidewalks than the newer suburban area, their distribution of public spaces was less dispersed.

Description of method used in the article
Public spaces were quantified on several measures for three neighborhoods in Morgantown, West Virginia, USA. Two were older traditionally designed neighborhoods while one was a newer suburban neighborhood. The author developed a spatial typology to distinguish between different types of urban form, measuring the size of and ease of access to public space as well as the residential grain and transport environment.

Of practical use

Organising categories