Creating Value through Public Space

The United Nations just launched the ‘UN-Habitat State of the World Cities Report 2020 on the Value of Sustainable Urbanization‘. “COVID-19 has transformed our urban world. However, it does not signify the end of cities. Urban areas hold the key to resilient, green recovery, and building back better!”, Victor Kisob, th assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat states. The United Nations emphasises that we create “value through public space”. This includes interior public spaces, which were closed due to COVID19-induced lockdowns recently. In this case, “local governments must work to provide sanitation infrastructure in all public spaces in order to mitigate the health risk”. Yet, also, “when designed with climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency, components of cities from buildings to public spaces can create communities that enhance environmental values”. They also enhance social and economic values. “Cities can unlock the intangible value of sustainable urbanization by creating public spaces and opportunities for democratic participation and social inclusion that allow the cultural fabric of urban life to flourish”. And, public space can offer a livelihood for people to be entrepreneurial and take part of labour work. Equality plays a huge role in sustainable urbanisation. “Diversity contributes to the social, economic and environmental value of urbanization through tolerance, integration, and coming together in public spaces.” This includes for instance the representation of the urban poor, migrants, and cultural minorities, hence this should lead to prioritising “their needs in any decision-making process, be it about the urban commons, atmospheric commons, public spaces or resource use”. And, “engage a wider audience – e.g. children and youth – in urban planning and design processes for safe, inclusive and accessible public space.” Everyone should “understand their rights to access public spaces and services”. I would like to add: Our challenge is to contribute to the design of public spaces for everyone.


World Cities Report 2020

After one Year without Public Space

Wrapping up a challenging year with a final online 2-day symposium ‘2020 A Year Without Public Space: Reflections & Outlook’ to reflect and plan ahead for 2021, particularly in the aspects of Cities & Health, Digital Public Space, Innovative Approaches & Creative Practices, and Campus as Public Space.

2020 passes in a blink. COVID-19 completely changed our world, our work, our school, and our daily life routine. COVID-19 also changed the public space where we for the first time have to stay away with during global lockdown, spaces where we perhaps took for granted for joyous gatherings, block parties, after-school hangouts, parks where we share experiences, exchange a thought, bump into neighbours and colleagues, have become cold spaces for disseminating hygiene items and food supplies, testing cases, or otherwise deserted and fenced off. Yet, at the same time, new spaces emerge, bike lanes, pedestrianized zones, pop-up installations, eateries and street stalls have found their ways in many cities and administrations. Coming to the end of 2020, we feel that now it’s the time to look back, reflect, and plan ahead.

2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic – Reflections & Outlook
International Symposium
6-7 November 2020
register at: www.publicspace-covid19.com

Please be welcome at one of the sessions on Day 1 and Day 2, and particularly to the roundtable discussion and closing remarks.
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Domestic Public Space

If the current period teaches us, as colleagues, anything explicitly, it is that we must take account of a changed way of thinking on public space and housing. This shift presents us with a major challenge when it comes to further densification of the city. The existing urban fabric needs revision, even in areas where there is no increase in density. Public space is becoming more homely, and houses are becoming workplaces, so partly more public. We will pay more attention to the immediate living environment: the space in the vicinity.

Read the article in Dutch:
Harteveld, Maurice (2020, October) Huiselijke Openbare Ruimte. Ontwerpen aan Plekken Nabij. In: Ruimte + Wonen. #3/2020 Thema Publieke Ruimte, 101e Jaargang, Nummer 3, October 2020, pp. 72-79

Ruimte + Wonen is a Dutch magazine and knowledge network for spatial professionals and housing experts, originated from the magazines S+RO and Tijdschrift voor de Volkshuisvesting. Go to ‘Ruimte + Wonen’ membership

Port Cities: Diverse and Inclusive


Rotterdam, photo by Iris van den Broek

“Waterfronts have been and in some (smaller) cities still are contact zones of people from diverse backgrounds: public spaces bring together dockworkers, displaced people, casual labourers, and trans-migrants waiting to board ships for overseas travel. However, waterfronts have been looked upon as places of otherness in need of social reform even at the turn of the twentieth century. Since the 1960s, container districts and offshore ports further increased the separation between ports and cities. Following containerization, waterfront regeneration has become a worldwide tool to overcome the range of social, cultural and public health issues associated with the nineteenth-century waterfront. Urban renewal and gentrification have been central to many of these programs that took off beginning in the 1980s in most European port cities. Rebranding has been an essential part of bringing new capital and new people into neighbourhoods next to former dock areas, which normally would not have been of interest to private investors.”

Read our full online column on Port Cities as Hubs of Diversity and Inclusivity: The case of Rotterdam, with Carola Hein, Paul van de Laar, Sabine Luning, Sarah Hinman, Amanda Brandellero, Ingrid Mulder, Maurice Jansen, and Lucija Azman. Happy to be part of the multidisciplinary Port City Futures research programme, an inspiring Leiden-Delft-Erasmus initiative.

Here, my field of urban design and public space is extended again to cultural anthropology, human geography, urban sociology, environmental psychology, and challenged by other domains!

People, Movement & Public Space

Improving our ways to urbanise and innovate urbanisation processes are needed in order to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, hence deliver the Quito New Urban Agenda promise. During the Future Days event, participants renewed the listing of urban topics. They bridge the gaps between academics and practitioner. They have presented much more evidence-based policies at the global level and with local examples and test-beds. And, they generated a better understanding of the driving forces of urbanisation and of the needs for better regulating the processes.

People, Movement and Public Space
In a keynote at the Future Days 2019 event, themed ‘Legacy and Future of our Cities’, I illuminated the interdisciplinary topic ‘people, movement and public space’, in order to understand assembled complexities of cities which go along with this topic. I introduced a four-step approach: First, a network-theoretical approach in the analyses of path systems, aiming to understand the complex dynamic systems of real cities better. Second, the analyses of personal perspectives on these paths apply more a non-linear approach to understand complex trajectories and interactions in reality. Third, engaged with the human-adaptive approach, analysing the psychology of place helps to understand patterns in the evolutionary inter-subjectivity of being in cities. Lastly, by observing public life, understanding the emergence of life in real cities, and non-equilibria, may be understand from a self-organising approach.
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African Public Spaces?

What is public space in African? Does it exist as we may presume? At the current, we are analysing and comparing urban life and presumed public spaces in selected segments of four African cities to map what we know about these cities. It is a first step in deepening cross-cultural understanding: An exiting start of a new exiting scientific journey along Dakar in Senegal, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Maputo in Mozambique, and Lusaka in Zambia.


Image by Vaggy Georgali
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Architecture and the City

The Architecture and the City: Public Realm/Public Building research group of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology focuses on questions regarding the mutual relationship between the city and its public realm. This is a relationship that can only be considered in socio-cultural and economic context. The idea of the public realm here refers to an intermediate ‘space’, which facilitates and mediates between different groups of inhabitants and individuals; the idea of the public realm as the space of (ex)change of ideas, opinions and beliefs of the different groups of users. Therefore, the architecture of the city and its actual qualities form the main framework of this research. Within this context urban blocks, as interface between architecture and urban design, and public buildings are seen as crucial architectural elements. Their functioning and organisation are physically, symbolically, socially and economically fundamental to the city. As such they form a domain both of architectural convention and experimentation. In terms of research and design methods architectural typology, typo-morphology and research-by-design hold a central position in our group’s approach.


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The Curse of Bigness

There are some who glorify the state or quality of bigness. This seems to be something characteristic of the modern age – the first hosannas began to resound around the dawn of the metropolis. We see it in the writings of Louis Sullivan and in the statements made by Le Corbusier. They like buildings to be big. Bigness is their quality. The notion of ‘bigness’, as pushed forward more recently by among others Rem Koolhaas, is based on complete disconnection between the interior and the exterior. “Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue”, he thinks. Context – the relationship with the building’s surroundings – is supposedly irrelevant. Nonsense! His theorem is contradicted by studies of existing cases. When a building exceeds a certain size and becomes a large-scale structure, public interiors are created. The increase in the number of people using both these indoors and the outdoor space links big buildings closely to their surroundings, more then do small-scale buildings, and thus far from being isolated, big buildings become more connected. In their urban environments, the interaction becomes visible and multi-level or privately-owned public space is created within big buildings. New public interiors extend the outdoor network and thereby give the building a fine-meshed structure. In essence, as the interiors become more public, the small scale is introduced into the building. The building may be big purely in terms of size, but in many ways it is quite as diverse as any part of the city.

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Design of Public Space

The design of the public space is one of the fundamental assignments for professionals involved in urban design and planning. Constructing and (re)forming the network of public space is even conditional for any kind of urbanity. It includes more than just the lay-out and beauty of spaces, as the design of public space has to be able to facilitate new kinds of usage, preconditioning any plausible development of multiple and complex use, and in general housing the dynamics for social change and exchange.
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