Our previous guests on Lunchtimes with Architects have shared their personal thoughts about public space, which include topics such as fighting for your rights, safety in slums, marginalised groups in society, and a resistance against building into landscapes. This week we have a different approach. With Anthony’s experience as a transport planner and design engineer in the public and private sector of Western Australia and internationally, he tells us his unique definition of public space.
“I guess the short answer is, it’s public. It’s accessible, it has no restrictions in terms of who can occupy it. That’s true public space. I think the interesting question is, ‘does it ever really exist anywhere?’ Because there are degrees of publicness. So the concept of public space is you know, multiple in terms of who can be where in any given time. So you look at it as a spectrum of the truly public space, which has no restrictions on occupation. The degree of publicness is often the thing that modifies peoples behaviours. So in truly public spaces people are less likely to do things which would be perceived as weird or culturally inappropriate behaviours. For example taking off your shirt, or shouting, or running fast for no apparent reason. So you know, I’m talking about urban public spaces because there are also recreational public spaces where people do do those kinds of things. Like they sort of run around and do all sorts of crazy stuff; they’re very purpose built kind of spaces.”
“When I think of public space because of my job, I think of it as urban public space. So I think about the streets, all the stuff that’s not built in the city…parks, streets, plazas, laneways, the actual roads themselves, like it’s just one continuous network of public space. So you know, it’s anywhere you can go that’s not privatised.”
“…it’s fundamental! In an urban setting it allows everything else to happen, it allows buildings to happen.”
“…in the first instance it’s important so people can get around. Just moving around! Whether it’s vehicles or walking. So you know that’s the chief reason for having it so we can communicate, and by communicate I mean move and not just use phones but actually communicating as in a transport. Fundamentally that’s where public space came from. And then I guess the other kinds of fundamental public space is a market place of some description where some kind of exchange happens. So, you know streets were places of conjugates of movement, which would also have opportunities of exchange along them like roadside kind of stalls, and then you had specific areas which were for exchange of mostly goods and services.”
“I’m just thinking functionally how it started; transport and exchange then I think the other aspects of public space are the human activities, which are movement, exchange, and social interactions. Fundamentally it provides for those kind of human activities. So is it important? Getting back to your question, yeah it’s fundamental! In an urban setting it allows everything else to happen, it allows buildings to happen.”
“So the whole scaffold of life is public space. If you don’t have it you can’t get anywhere. You can’t create a development site without being able to transport things there. So yeah even a road, even a freeway is public space to some extent. I mean it allows people to move along it. It’s publicly held land,” explained Anthony. “…it’s a public space, but it’s a particular type of public space, it’s just about movement. So yeah it’s the backbone, it’s the circulatory system, it’s the nervous system, you know it’s everything. So if you just see it as one big network, and the parks are just places where you slow down or stop. Where you get caught in a little eddy. So if you think about it in a sort of flow, you know places where you slow down or get caught, like in the stream analogy some parts of the stream are moving very fast, and off to the side is a little pool, that’s like a park.”
Lunchtimes with Architects is a series of blog posts that aims to enlighten readers about public spaces from around the world. Each blog post will feature a member from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) and will focus on their unique story and showcase how powerful urban public places can really be. This week features Dr. Anthony Duckworth-Smith who is an Urban Designer, Assistant Professor, senior researcher, practitioner, and teaches in the Master of Urban Design Programme (UWA) at the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC). He has previously worked as a transport planning and design engineer for 10 years in the public and private sector of Western Australia and internationally. Having a background in architecture and civil engineering, Anthony provides a functional understanding to our cities.
Duckworth-Smith, A., interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, Perth.