Evaluating the role of public spaces in promoting social interaction in divided cities. the case study of Nicosia, Cyprus

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Social interaction is the contact between individuals, groups and environments. There are different levels of social interaction, starting with superficial ones, i.e. observing other individuals and greeting them, to a high level of interaction that can be found in neighbourhoods where individuals form communities and share emotional investment in the same things. Public spaces such as streets, plazas and parks have the ability to facilitate and promote social interaction, because they create opportunities for people to interact in the form of activities and special events. The UN-Habitat defines social interaction as an element of public space. Divided cities originate as the result of divisions within a nation. With little to no relation between the two sides of the divided city, they continue to develop independently. In cases where the citizens of the divided cities are allowed to move across the border, one place where they still come in contact with each other and have an opportunity to interact is the public space. Thus public spaces have the potential to build connections between different groups, and cultivate good will, friendship, compassion and tolerance. This paper analyses the ability of public spaces in a divided city to facilitate social interaction. It uses a mixed method design, building an index of social interaction to quantify the ability of public spaces to promote social interaction, and conducting expert interviews to design and validate the index and its results. The results show that the public spaces in Nicosia are not used to their full potential and there is a tendency for inhabitants to focus on spaces that offer activities such as shopping, cafes and restaurants, and festivals. The public spaces which had a larger number of such activities had a higher ability to promote social interaction. The social dimension of public spaces demonstrated a high level of significance. The presence of both communities in the public spaces, as well as the occupant density had a great impact on the outcome of the index, and therefore, on the ability of public spaces to promote social interaction.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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