Public space

December 2, 2006

‘‘Sweeping’’ the library: Mapping the social activity
space of the public library. By Lisa M. Given, Gloria J. Leckie
Library & Information Science Research
25 (2003) 365 – 385


It seems rather futile to attempt to define public space by a characteristic, such as ownership, or a physical attribute, such as openness. Contemporary public spaces perhaps can be more usefully thought of in terms of the activities that take place within them and the sociocultural functions that these spaces perform.

The description of public space that is most applicable can be found in the work of Zukin (1995), who takes a broad view of public space as a constantly changing context as perceived by the various public and private interests who construct and use those spaces. She focused on the dual notions of public culture and public space, which are intimately linked and are mutually reinforcing. As Zukin noted, public culture and public space are socially constructed. . .

produced by the many social encounters that make up daily life in the streets, shops and parks —the space in which we experience public life in cities. The right to be in these spaces, to use them in certain ways, to invest them with a sense of ourselves and our communities —to claim them as ours and to be claimed in turn by them—make up a constantly changing public culture. . . Yet public space is inherently democratic. The question of who can occupy public space, and so define an image of the city, is open-ended. (pp. 10 – 11)

Zukin, S. (1995). The cultures of cities. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

What do people do in public spaces? What interactions do they engage in, what activities do they pursue, where do they pursue them, and how do they conduct those interactions and activities? To answer these questions, scholars from a variety of disciplines (including anthropology, geography, sociology, urban planning, environmental psychology, and architectural design) have come to describe the places in which people’s individual and collective behaviors are enacted as ‘‘social activity space.’ This term recognizes that virtually every action or interaction in which human beings are engaged within physical places is an
inherently complex social activity.

The types of spatial methodologies outlined previously can be used to investigate a wide range of interesting questions about people within the context of various social activity spaces. Investigations could encompass the following topics: (1) what people actually do, or prefer to do, in certain physical spaces; (2) how people perceive the public and private spaces that they use and visit; (3) how and why places become meaningful to various groups of people; (4) how people navigate within complex environments.


One comment

  1. Who would own public spaces in web – the real owners of those spaces or these people who interact with these places. It reminds me the ownership ideas E. Wenger used in the book “Communities of Practice” (1998) – ownership of meanings.

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