Desegregating Urban Space in the Age of Sharing

Matt Davis

Over the course of the last 100 or so years, we have seen the systematic privatisation of urban space driven largely by architectural and urban planning practices that responded to the rise of car culture in our cities.

With the gradual realisation that this paradigm is broken, and a growing groundswell for policies that support ‘people and place’, there is a renewed sense of the value of public space.

Delivering liveable cities at a time of unprecedented urbanisation presents us with both the greatest opportunity and challenge for a sustainable, resilient and prosperous future. How can we deliver cities that are denser, greener, and smarter, while maintaining their liveability? The answer, I believe, will largely be determined by the quality of our public space.

As the density of our cities grows, the demands placed on public space will increase but at the same time its availability will be heavily constrained. How can public space be individually allocated to simultaneously serve the social, business, and mobility needs of its citizenry? It can’t. Public space must be multi-functionary, serving the many needs of many disparate groups, all at the same time.

In short, public space must, as it was originally intended, be shared. From the rise of collaborative consumption to the evolution of shared mobility systems, ‘sharing’ will underpin the liveability of our cities. The shift from privatised urban space to truly public space will require a significant cultural adjustment for many cities, particularly those with a strong ethos of self-interest, self-entitlement and ownership.

Mat will explore the cultural issues that underpin the success and failure of public space in the context of Australian cities, and contrasted against global experience. The concept of behavioural design will be introduced as an approach to designing public space that enables coexistence, by closing the gap between design intent and actual, rather than assumed, human behaviour.

Matt Davis Lecturer in Architecture, UNI of SA will present at the 6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda.