Using Public Spaces Freely: Ownership and Management of Public Spaces

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Buchwach, Allison
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Several interpretations exist of what it means to be a public space and the purpose of such spaces. One interpretation focuses on the legal and political interpretation of public space, which relates to who has a right to a space and the rights one has in that space. Frequent debates over public space in this regard often consider freedom of speech and assembly and the way in which law may try to exclude certain users of space such as the homeless. Another interpretation of public space is its purpose to serve the public realm as a place where one can protest, converse and debate with fellow citizenry, and otherwise maintain civic-mindedness. The space is a level playing field and the physical space where democracy can be preserved. Lastly, public space can be interpreted as having primarily a social and psychological function through its place in the larger urban setting that allows people to interact and have a sense of identity and community, which relate to other social phenomena such as safety and mental well-being (Common Ground? Readings and Reflections on Public Space, 2010). The purposes of this option paper are to consider the ownership and management schemes over spaces intended for public use and assess how those schemes influence a space’s ability to serve the public. A space is more public when it can be freely accessed and its users are allowed to engage in their own preferred activities and interactions with one another. As defined by Jeremy Nemeth, “public” spaces are spaces that “ideally… serve as the material location where social interactions and the public activities of all members of the public occur” (Nemeth, 2009). Varna and Tiesdell use the term “publicness” as the ideal public space, which is “a place that is more public for more publics” (Varna & Tiesdell, 2010). I add to this definition of “publicness” that space should not simply permit inclusivity, but proactively welcome inclusivity of all different members of the public and help facilitate social interaction and activities characteristic of diverse users. Thus, the approach of this research paper favors the political and legal interpretation of public space and looks to make conclusions that can better serve non-excludability of both diverse users and the public activities they wish to engage in. In light of this observation, public space shall be inclusive of spaces that are intended for use by the broader public, such as plazas, pocket parks, open air markets, town squares, and sidewalks. The paper will conclude with recommendations on how public space can offer the most accessible environment possible for any member of the public and for their public activities, regardless of its ownership status or control by a private entity or by local government. This exercise is important as many scholars have observed that public spaces owned by local governments are being transferred to private ownership and operation. Or, the development of public spaces and their operation are becoming the responsibility of private entities altogether as local governments find the advantage of reduced costs and private entities gain some kind of benefit. Those concerned with the degree of publicness of a space may care to know how publicness is affected when different ownership and management schemes are compared. While it is perhaps obvious that privately funded, developed and managed may create less public spaces, it is important to know which factors contribute to or take away from publicness in order for policymakers and advocates to decide whether the development and management of public space should be the responsibility of the private sector, or, if it is, then how the private sector can best be regulated in order to preserve publicness. The following literature review is guided by four primary questions that inform the major research question. Part of the literature review shares selected models and the methodologies used by scholars that will help shape the methodology for the author’s field research. The literature review will conclude with areas for further research and how the investigation of public spaces in Atlanta may add to existing literature.
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Applied Research Paper
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