Re-theorising contemporary public space: a new narrative and a new normative

Matthew Carmona

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Carmona, M. (1). Re-theorising contemporary public space: a new narrative and a new normative. Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 8(4), 373–405.

Critiques , London , Public Space , Re-theorisation

The global public spaces literature has been critical of contemporary manifestations of public space on a number of grounds. This article reports on a research project that attempted to gauge the validity of these critiques through an examination of new and regenerated public spaces in London. The article introduces the dominant critiques around public space before outlining the mixed-methods approach used to interrogate them. The key findings from this work are summarised before the nature of contempo- rary public space is re-theorised in a more avowedly positive and pragmatic manner than is often the case, one that celebrates a return of a public spaces paradigm through tentatively advancing a new narrative and set of normative principles for public space generation. The work concludes that a more balanced view of public space is required, one that recognises the multiple complex types, roles and audiences for public spaces in cities today.

Main finding
This research demonstrates that the dominant narrative of loss, decline, reduced “publicness” of public space stemming from privatisation, commercialisation, homogenisation, exclusion and other pressures is certainly not the whole story. Instead of loss, this research finds a narrative of renewal situated in private-sector innovation in urban design–led/aware development and in political and public-sector support with policy and investment. This research suggests that good public spaces are evolving, balanced, diverse, delineated, social, free, engaging, meaningful, comfortable, robust and equally appealing to all users.

Description of method used in the article
14 mixed-methods local cases were chosen to explore the diverse range of contemporary spaces. The six dimensions of this work were: Policy analysis, Stakeholder narratives, Popular debate and analysis, User assessment, Time-lapse observation, Character assessment.

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