Assessing the publicness of ‘planned’ public open spaces progressively: The AU model of publicness

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Over the last three decades, public open space literature has been critical of the increasing involvement of private sector in contemporary practices of public open space planning and development. Critiques on private actors’ involvement in public open space development are largely based on the notion of a ‘highly public’ public domain, argued to have existed in the public open spaces such as parks and squares in pre-WW II cities of Western Europe due to strong state presence in their development. However, as counter-critiques argue, the involvement of private actors in contemporary practices of public open space development is inevitable and could also be beneficial, particularly in emerging Asian economies whose cities are majorly built by private initiatives. And, as such counter-critiques argue, a reconceptualization of publicness as a phenomenon independent of sole state participation, and policies for public open space development based on novel combinations of state, civil society, and private sector participation are strongly warranted. Along these lines, this paper presents a model and method for assessing publicness of ‘planned’ public open spaces empirically – termed as AU model. The proposed AU model is progressive, as a public open space is assessed in various stages of its development beginning from its planning - as part of an urban space - to its design, development, and management. Here, publicness is conceptualized based on two attributes – access and use, considered to be its core ideals and that the freedom of which makes a space public, and thereby the name AU. To assess the attributes of access and use, AU model is broadly conceived to constitute of two sub-models: quantitative publicness and qualitative publicness. While sub-model of quantitative publicness is conceptualized to measure the degree to which ‘planned’ public open spaces are developed into publicly accessible spaces, sub-model of qualitative publicness is conceptualized to measure the degree to which publicly accessible spaces - based on three dimensions viz., physical configuration, control, and civility - encourage use by the larger public of the city. Besides, sub-model of qualitative publicness is explicated furthermore into an operational model in which the above-mentioned three dimensions are measured and graphically represented through 14 indicators. Compared to existing pragmatic publicness assessment models, the proposed AU model is significant in providing a progressive, systematic, and comprehensive assessment of public open spaces and related policies. Primarily, it can be used to comparatively assess publicness of public open spaces that emerged under different planning policies, forms of provision, and management regimes. The paper is in five parts. The first part discusses the contemporary practices of public open space development and the associated debates on private sector participation. The second part discusses and then conceptualizes the nature of ‘planned’ public open spaces and their process of development. Third part conceptualizes publicness and explains the proposed AU model of publicness. Fourth part shows an application of the model to the case of parks in the city of Chennai, India. The final part discusses the model’s applications in urban design research and practice and future research directions.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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