Urban beautification campaigns are usually sold to local residents as a way to improve their daily. Design elements – from lighting systems to signs, benches, bollards, fountains and planters, and sometimes even surveillance equipment – ​​are used to renovate and beautify public spaces.

Designers call these elements “urban furniture”. And the projects in which they are used generally aim to increase social interaction, enhance safety, improve accessibility and generally improve city life.

Some research supportshowever, that such beautification campaigns can result in urban public spaces becoming more exclusive. Despite the promises with which they are marketed, if these projects failing to take into account the needs of the local populationthey may feel less able or less willing to use these spaces.

Cheonggyecheon Canal, in Seoul, South Korea.
PixHound | Shutterstock

Cities are not only identified by their monuments or their emblematic buildings. You can tell New York and Palermo apart just by looking at what people are doing in public. A scene from New York is more likely to feature someone on a skateboard eating a burrito, while an image from Palermo might include a group of men on a street watching a football game on TV across a display case.

Urban space is where city children learn and play, students read, and people work, walk and relax. It is through these different activities that the urban culture of a city is created.

What do urban spaces look like? Urban Designa powerful tool.

Architects, infrastructure and space designers carefully configure the built environment – ​​the built fabric of our cities – and it has a lasting impact. effect on how we use them or inhabit them.

In cities around the world – from Algiers, Auckland and Chicago to Hanoi, Mexico City and Seoul – Studies show that transform public spaces clearly affects the diversity of what people do there and if they use them.

In Algiers, the Algerian capital, the neighborhoods were formally designed in the 1970s in a rigid modernist style. Design elements including shady trees, benches and lights at night made people feel comfortable carrying out activities such as playing cards or meeting to chat, but huge buildings , wide streets and large spaces also caused a feeling of insecurity and insecurity. lost. Additionally, the land has been laid out in a seamless manner characteristic of other major cities, including Los Angeles, Auckland and Sydney. These large-scale and non-contextual conceptions have also been linked to antisocial behavior.

A large urban park and high-rise buildings.
Alameda Central Park, Mexico City.
Diego Grandi/Alamy Stock Photo

To research carried out in the history Alameda Central Park neighborhood Mexico City highlight similar patterns of exclusion caused by the way a neighborhood has been redesigned.

After the transformation of the neighborhood in 2013, there has been a notable drop in the diversity of activities practiced there (family and religious gatherings, street art, music, informal vendors). Instead, the law now prioritizes tourist activity over the day-to-day needs of local people and allows authorities to apply a zero-tolerance approach to anything deemed disruptive. Vendors have become nomadic, packing their bags and hiding whenever the police are near.

In the Cheonggyecheon-Euljiro area of Seoul, South Korea, meanwhile, redevelopment has led to the demolition of 50-year-old workshops. This in turn threatened the historical and cultural values ​​of local people and disrupted social networks.

How cities are co-created

In his 1968 book, The right to the city, the French Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre described the city as a co-created space. This contrasts with the more capitalistic definition in which urban space is merchandise be bought and sold, Lefebvre saw it as a meeting place where citizens collectively built urban life.

This idea that public space is a public good belonging to all has been increasingly challenged in recent years, with the rise of private public space. Most of London’s parks (about 42 square kilometers of green space in total) are owned by the City of London Corporation, the municipal body that governs the City of London, but more and more places in new developments are belonging to companies.

A stone tiled public space in an office building.
The More London development near Tower Bridge, London, is a private public space.
UrbanImages / Alamy Stock Photo

Urban theorists have long noted the connection between the way a city is designed and the way life takes place there. The American scientist Jane Jacobs is famous for pointing out that cities fail when they’re not designed for everyone. And the Danish architect Jan GehlThe production of always focused on what he called “life between buildings”.

Like Gehl has explained, for a city to be good for its inhabitants, those responsible for designing it must be aware of how it is used: what people do in its spaces. To be successful, urban designs must be centered and relevant to people’s daily lives. Gehl explained that designing a city for pedestrians – on a walkable scale – is the way to make it healthy, sustainable, lively and attractive.

When we use public spaces, even in the short term, we are indeed appropriate them: urban designers and architects talk about “temporary appropriation” describe the individual or group activities with which we invest these spaces.

Research has also highlighted how democratic This may be. But it depends on the design of these spaces in collaboration with the residents. When a public space, on the contrary, is designed too much without taking into account the needs of people, it is not used.

Since the 1970s, urban planning theorists highlighted that we only use public spaces where we feel comfortable represented. For urban design to work, it is crucial to take into account what the inhabitants really think of their city.