Akkar, M. (1). The changing ‘publicness’ of contemporary public spaces: a case study of the Grey's Monument Area, Newcastle upon Tyne. URBAN DESIGN International, 10(2), 95–113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.udi.9000138
Parallel to the recent rise in interest in public spaces, the proliferation of alluring, distinctive and exclusive public spaces in many post-industrial cities raises the question of how far these environments are truly ‘public’. This paper discusses the question of the ‘publicness’ of contemporary public spaces in Britain, where they have been placed at the top of the political agenda of the Labour Governments since the late- 1990s. Studying in depth the changing ‘publicness’ of the Grey’s Monument Area (GMA), a public space recently refurbished in the city centre of Newcastle upon Tyne, regarding the dimensions of ‘access’, ‘actor’ and ‘interest’, the paper seeks to show that, contrary to the wide recognition of diminishing ‘publicness’ of contemporary public spaces in urban design and planning literature, the recent refurbishment has in fact had both positive and negative impacts on the ‘publicness’ of the GMA. The paper concludes that contemporary public spaces may show different shades of ‘publicness’, in which degrees of ‘access’, ‘actor’ and ‘interest’ can vary widely, and seeks to underline the emerging trends and threats of: (i) the blurring distinction between public and private spaces, and (ii) image-led regeneration strategies dominating everyday society’s needs and civic functions of genuine ‘public’ spaces, and ultimately violating the ‘publicness’ of public realms in post-industrial cities.
Contemporary public spaces may show different shades of 'publicness', in which degrees of 'access', 'actor' and 'interest' can vary widely. The study of the GMA reveals at least four main trends of contemporary public spaces: (1) the increasing involvement of the private sector in the management and operation of public spaces, (2) increasing restrictions on the social accessibility of public spaces through surveillance and other strict control measures in order to improve their security and ‘good’ or ‘sanitised’ images, (3) the tendency of public spaces towards promoting gentrification, social exclusion and stratification, and (4) their new urban form significantly favouring private interest.
Description of method used in the article
Investigates the Grey’s Monument Area (GMA), a public space refurbished in the late-1990s in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne as a part of the Grainger Town Project (GTP), aiming at economic and urban revitalisation of the 19th-century city centre. The data of the research were mainly drawn from (1) documents and archival records (reports, formal studies, articles appearing in the local media and websites), (2) focused interviews with a number of actors involved in the development and use of the case study area, and (3) direct observations.