Global Urban Lectures s04e11: Luisa Bravo – Stand up for public space

By on July 25, 2017

Luisa Bravo in this lecture advocates for that public space in cities is a common good, meant to be open, inclusive and democratic – a right for everybody.



Issues which the lecture addresses
Public space is more and more an emerging issue in our contemporary societies. In the research and academia discourse, we are often referring to exempla from the so-called global West or global North, thus imposing an oversimplified view of public space design, management and use, relating to successful projects and celebrating architects and urban designers. Those exempla are standing like relevant episodes in the urban context, but in some cases do not address the peculiarity and diversity of cities, societies and spaces, especially in those contexts where public space is mostly appropriated by informal and spontaneous practices: sometimes even a good design could not be able to create a proper public space for community life.
The notion and the approach to public space still needs a deep clarification, for scholars, architects, urban designers and city managers, mainly in the process of analysis and understanding of its complex evolving nature, especially from a bottom-up and user-oriented perspective related to everyday life.

Short analysis of the above issues
Today public space deals with cultural richness, identity and diversity, but also inequalities, contradictions and conflicts. Economic issues, privatization trends and gentrification processes are dominating aspirations of local communities. While a large group of scholars is currently questioning the ownership of the city, in many cities activists, private groups and organizations are advocating a better city and society, connecting innermost emotions of collective expectations to the outward manifestation in the public domain. In many cities they are already at work to establish a fruitful collaboration with property owners, developers, planners and politicians.
A general reflection is needed: as architects and designers, we still need to understand how to shape the world around us, we still need to define concepts, images and tools to outline the entire existing urban landscape. What is evident is that architects and urban designers should act as a part of the contemporary society, rather than superior and outside it, using their specialized knowledge inside a really complex process, on a common ground of debate and growth with local governments but also with local communities and stakeholders. The consolidated design process should be enriched with a real multifaceted and comprehensive approach, embedding aspirations of open-minded citizens through negotiation practices and sensory experiences.
For public administrators the management of public space appears today as a complex task, a balance between physical space and public life: the ability to see, understand and analyse such complexity should not be taken for granted.
Public spaces can behave as places of multi-layered connections, sharing ideals and cultural awareness: they can grant and gather all wishes becoming engine of a real social rebirth for people, neighbourhoods and communities, more than architectural landmarks that could be able to generate some kind of impact on the urban context. We should take care much more of our ordinary, existing urban world, with a more humble and sensitive approach, even with small but proper, context-based design interventions, rather than looking for some new, extraordinary, big-scale, glittering solutions. In the global West or global North this is especially true in the suburban environment.

Propositions for addressing the issue
The lecture will address the following issues:
– top-down approach vs bottom-up practices in the contemporary age
– architecture/architects and urban design/designers as open-minded tools/actors
– the relevance of public space in the urban discourse
– the players involved in the public space process
– lessons learned and what we still need to know/do
– what everyone can do everyday for public space


Luisa Bravo is an architectural engineer and an academic scholar, educated in Italy, UK and France. After completing her PhD, with a thesis on contemporary urbanism, at University of Bologna (Italy, 2008), she has been researching, teaching and lecturing in several Universities, in Italy, UK, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Lebanon, USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Australia. Visiting scholar at IURD – Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California Berkeley (USA, 2012), Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture and Design, Lebanese American University in Beirut (Lebanon, 2015), she is currently Adjunct Associate Professor at the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane (Australia).
Luisa is charter member and president of City Space Architecture, a non-profit organization based in Italy that performs as multidisciplinary platform for scholars, professionals, artists and citizens engaged in architecture, public space, cities and urbanity. She is Founding Editor and Journal Manager of ‘The Journal of Public Space’, jointly established by City Space Architecture and the Queensland University of Technology in partnership with UN Habitat, the United Nations Agency on Cities and Human Settlements.
At the Habitat III conference, Luisa launched a global campaign called ‘Stand up for Public Space!’, promoted by City Space Architecture, in order to spread awareness on the importance of reclaiming public space as a common good in our contemporary cities.

Organization Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CitySpaceArchitecture/


Stand up for Public Space! http://www.standupforpublicspace.org/

The Charter of Public Space: http://www.biennalespaziopubblico.it/outputs/the-charter-of-public-space/

The Journal of Public Space: https://journalpublicspace.org/

The European Prize for Urban Public Space: http://publicspace.org/en

Bravo, L. and Sgarbi, C. (2013), The public space of education, Vol. 4, n. 1 (special issue), IN_BO. Ricerche e progetti per il territorio, la città e l’architettura, Department of Architecture, University of Bologna, open access journal, available at http://in_bo.unibo.it/issue/view/377

SpontaneousInterventions | Design Actions for the Common Good: http://www.spontaneousinterventions.org/interventions

Tactical Urbanism: http://www.tacticalurbanismguide.com/

Placemaking: http://www.pps.org/

Jane Jacobs and the Power of Women Planners, by Roberta Brandes Gratz: http://www.citylab.com/politics/2011/11/jane-jacobs-and-power-women-planners/502/

Who owns the city, by Saskia Sassen: https://lsecities.net/media/objects/articles/who-owns-the-city/en-gb/

How to build a sustainable city, by Jamie Lerner: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/opinion/how-to-build-a-sustainable-city.html

Crawford, M. et al. (2008), Everyday Urbanism, Monacelli Press, New York, http://www.monacellipress.com/book/?isbn=9781580932011

Bravo, L. and Crawford, M (2014) “Publics and their spaces: renewing urbanity in city and suburb”, in Cavallo, R. et al. (eds), New urban configurations, IOS Press & TU Delft, The Netherlands, pp. 784-789, ISBN 978-1-61499-365-0, available at http://ebooks.iospress.nl/book/new-urban-configurations

Nancy Fraser (1990), Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy, in ‘Social Text’, n. 25/26, pp. 56-80 http://my.ilstu.edu/~jkshapi/Fraser_Rethinking%20the%20Public%20Sphere.pdf

Douglas Kelbaugh (2001), Three Urbanisms and the Public Realm, Proceedings of the 3rd International, Space Syntax Symposium http://botsfor.no/publikasjoner/Litteratur/New%20Urbanism/Three%20Urbanisms%20and%20the%20Public%20Realm%20by%20Douglas%20Kelbaugh.pdf

Alastair Hannay (2005), On The Public, Routledge

David Harvey (2008), The right to the city, in ‘New Left Review’, vol. 53, Sept-Oct, pp. 23-40 https://newleftreview.org/II/53/david-harvey-the-right-to-the-city

Activist Academy – Public Space and Activism http://www.activisthive.org/public-space-and-activism/

DIY Urbanism http://www.spur.org/publications/urbanist-article/2010-09-01/diy-urbanism

Urbanized, a film by Gary Hustwit http://www.hustwit.com/category/urbanized/

Jan Gehl, In Search of the Human Scale (lecture – TEDxKEA) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgw9oHDfJ4k

The Human Scale, a film by Andreas Dalsgaard http://thehumanscale.dk/thefilm/

Human, a film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand http://www.human-themovie.org/

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The Global Urban Lecture series is an initiative by UNI – UN-Habitat’s partnership with universities worldwide.


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