Changing patterns of urban public space

Roman Cybriwsky

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Cybriwsky, R. (1). Changing patterns of urban public space. Cities, 16(4), 223–231.

New York , Public space , Tokyo

This paper looks at new, high-profile redevelopment projects in Tokyo and New York City and their surroundings for examples of trends in the design of urban public spaces and changing patterns in how they are used. This includes new parks and other open spaces, landscaped plazas or public squares associated with new office towers, shopping centers and other largescale commercial developments, and various popular “festival sites” such as those along recreation waterfronts. A comparison indicates that both cities have quite a few new public spaces that enhance the quality of urban life and add aesthetic appeal, but that also reflect certain social problems and divisions. We see the following common trends: (1) increasing privatization of spaces that were once more clearly in the public domain; (2) increasing surveillance of public spaces and control of access to them in order to improve security; and (3) increasing use of design themes that employ “theme park” simulations and break connections with local history and geography. In the Tokyo area there is also a curious trend to create large, landscaped open areas near new development projects that few people use. They can be called “planned wastelands” or “new urban deserts”. New York City, on the other hand, has succeeded in having more people come together for enjoyment in parts of the city that were once all but abandoned. The paper is illustrated with photographs, and draws on the examples of Times Square, South Street Seaport and Battery Park City in New York, and Yebisu Garden Place, Teleport–Daiba, Makuhari New Town and Minato Mirai 21 in the Tokyo–Yokohama area.

Main finding
Three trends were observed at study sites in both cities: 1) spaces thought of as public are increasingly becoming transferred from the public domain to private ownership, 2) surveillance of public spaces has increased, and 3) public space design is becoming more playful by invoking thematic schemes and simulations while disconnecting from local history and geography. Privatized public spaces exist mostly in mixed- and multi-use developments through zoning incentives. Surveillance in these types of developments may consist of the ubiquitous half-dome cameras, plain-clothes or uniformed private police, and defensible designs that monitor and control movement through space. Theme park inspired designs serve to encourage and increase conspicuous consumption by attracting more affluent users. However, there were some marked difference between the two cities such as Tokyo’s large, sparse, non-human scaled public spaces dubbed “new urban deserts” and the contrasting increase of crowds to once abandoned places in New York City.

Description of method used in the article
Comparative fieldwork was conducted in two cities by studying recently completed high-profile redevelopment projects with their surrounding environs and new developments on reclaimed waterfront land. Additionally, the author reviewed literature on emerging issues connected to urban public space.

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