The culture and economics of urban public space design: Public and professional perceptions

Lee Pugalis

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Pugalis, L. (1). The culture and economics of urban public space design: Public and professional perceptions. URBAN DESIGN International, 14(4), 215–230.

Cultural Vitality , Economic Activity , Place Quality , Urban Public Space

Urban public space is once again a 'hot' topic and figures strongly in place quality discourse. City spaces are being recycled, reinterpreted and reinvented in a drive for a competitive quality of place. This article illustrates the changing face of contemporary UK public space through a qualitative analysis of the perceptions held by public and professional-bureaucratic actors. Drawing on empirical case study research of five recent enhancement schemes at prominent nodes throughout the North East of England, the research explores the culture and economics of urban public space design. Tentative observations are expressed in terms of the links between cultural activity and economic vitality, and some reflections on policy and practice are put forward.

Main finding
The cases studied in this article suggest that public life, social interaction and cultural exchange are thriving, contrary to theories about the death of public life and cultural disintegration. The study finds that cultural activity (use value) and economic vitality (exchange value) of urban public spaces are mutually constitutive, i.e. interventions should be part of wider programmes of activity, informed by community aspirations, and wide stakeholder buy-in. But the study also finds that urban public spaces are not fulfilling economic, political, environmental and socio-cultural possibilities and makes a case for giving priority to investment in urban public spaces as a central public good and significant (public-private) cultural and economic asset. The author calls for responsive public spaces that adapt to changing needs and requirements and consider design, management and delivery of specific spaces in creative ways.

Description of method used in the article
A mixed-method qualitative approach consisting of site analysis, on-street user surveys and interviews with appropriate professionals helped guide and structure the research. The urban public spaces selected for study were: Alnwick Market Place, Durham Millennium Square, Newcastle Monument-Old Eldon Square, Redcar Esplanade and Stockton High Street. Street walking and hanging-around, including observation of a participatory and non-participatory nature, also constituted a central strand of empirical enquiry for each of the five case study sites.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Economic Transactions Gathering/Socializing
Urban Design
Physical types
Geographic locations