Privatisation of the Production of Public Space

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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From the 1960s to the 1970s, a large number of Western inner cities went through a phase of severe deprivation due to both a relocation of manufacturing jobs that in turn led to a depopulation, a lack of investment and high unemployment and to suburbanisation made possible by the car. From the 1990’s, urban regeneration strategies were introduced to tackle this inner city deprivation. In the United Kingdom, this ‘urban renaissance’ took place within the new economic and political paradigm of neoliberalism which placed a strong emphasis on market forces as the driver of urban regeneration (see national policy document Urban Task Force 1999). The shift to this economic system led to changes in both the process of urban development and its product, the space itself. Local governments endorsed the new economic reality- which included a greater role for private and corporate actors in the development and management of cities - in order to be able to participate in the global inter-urban competition. As a result of declining public budgets and encouraged by national guidance, public authorities began to outsource tasks and responsibilities that had previously been regarded as a governmental concern to private actors and newly developed private public partnerships (urban regeneration vehicles in planning policy terminology). Public authorities themselves also adopted business-like styles of organisation in which productivity, effectivity and efficiency were regarded as the main conditions for serving the public’s financial interest, though other public values such as cultural heritage, equality and democracy were often regarded as of secondary concern. This privatisation of development in urban areas did not just affect the process but also the outcome; the appearance and use of public spaces. Within the urban renaissance agenda, a strong emphasis was put on the aesthetisation of space in order to attract the desired businesses, investors and people with a high disposable income. The objective in private management regimes appears to be on reducing risk by putting a strong focus on surveillance, safety, tidiness and the exclusion of undesirable behaviour, all of which reduces the diversity, vitality and vibrancy of spaces in order to welcome tourists and middle-class visitors, in other words consumers (Low 2006). This privatisation of public space raises valid questions with regard to the publicness of urban open space and a number of authors recognise a ‘decline’ of public space or have even declared ‘the end of public space’ as we have known it (Sorkin 1992; Mitchell 1995; Low and Smith 2006; Madanipour 2003; Iveson 2007 etc.). Other authors argue that we do not experience the death of public space but a change in its form, function and appearance that reflects contemporary economic, societal and cultural narratives (see eg Madden 2010; Carmona et al. 2008, Carmona 2015; De Magalhães and Freire Tigo 2017). To be able to incorporate these societal shifts, a revised (and wider) definition is needed to describe and analyse publicness in the production of space (Kohn 2004; De Magalhães 2010; Varna and Tiesdell 2010; Németh and Smith 2011; Langstraat and Van Melik 2013; Varna 2016).

The premises for this research are based on the above discussion on the different roles that privatisation plays in the production of space, within this shift towards greater involvement of a variety of private partners in the development process and the possible decline in the degree of publicness in both process and space. The apparent need for a wider definition of public space to include current political, economic and societal changes, the relation between the public sphere and public space, the degree of publicness in both the process and space itself, the perception of the user and the role of the urban designer are hereby taken as starting points and lead to the following research question:

Does privatisation lead to a decline of publicness in the production of space and space itself, and how does urban design play a role in this?
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • van Bueren, E.M., Supervisor
  • Vanstiphout, Wouter, Supervisor
Award date5 Apr 2018
Print ISBNs78-94-6366-060-0
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment No 5 (2018)

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