MEPMX Mapeo del Espacio Público
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PUBLIC SPACE IN THE CONTEMPORANY CITY

The last decades have witnessed a rapid growth in urban populations worldwide, bringing us to a situation in which over half the world’s population currently lives in urban areas. Thus, cities have become the territorial unit par excellence, setting the pace and magnitude of today’s great challenges and problems. Quality of life, growth, security, mobility, sustainability, and poverty, among other topics are studied from the urban perspective more than ever.

Within cities, public space is the main urban structuring and constructing element. Whether in physical or social dimensions, public space has become the focus of important actions transforming life at the cultural, political and economic level.

In this way, it is interesting to look at and reflect on two recent events that had worldwide impact and took place in the city. The first is the massive demonstration by thousands of citizens protesting against the politics of President Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo. The second event happened as a result of the Spanish people’s recent expressions in their “camping out at Plaza del Sol.” Both events have joined a list of important events in the last few years to have taken place in major cities and emblematic public spaces. It is precisely this aspect—the public space’s condition of active location—what defines the potency and efficiency of the people’s messages. These places, along with the media’s power, are the ones who manage to communicate social and political crises more clearly and poignantly.

The last few decades have also witnessed a new value of public space that can be summed up in three notions. First, a sensible assessment of place, the general urban environment, and, particularly, public space—also, the reassess of quality of life and the neighborhood-city and architecture-city dialectic. Secondly, the strengthening of an urban democracy founded on a community that asks questions, critiques, and demands improvement, and quality of spaces and services, active participation in the new zoning plans, and the foregrounding of local governments in the city project. Lastly, a certain re-conceptualization of the urban inhabitant as active and principal element that becomes a citizen through appropriating and participating in the construction, projection and management of the city.

Maybe these concepts are the synthesis of the pertinence of a new reflection and a new reading of the city, and, by extension, of public space as essential element of the city and its inhabitants.

Moreover, in addition to the roles public space has played traditionally, there are now new realities in today’s world: new methods of transportation—urban trains, monorails, bike lanes, etc.; a growing awareness about sustainability; a unanimous acknowledgement of the need for “green spaces”; a reinvigorated crusade for the pedestrianization of many downtown areas; the need for new infrastructure due to population growth; the potential conception of public space as an area for the provision of services—think of possible small urban health clinics, internet cafés, spots for smokers—newly marginalized—, areas for knowledge, among others: all these 3activities—new signs of today’s city—enrich and provide layers to our way of seeing, registering and behaving in the city.

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