UTC India-Student Essay-Inclusive Public Spaces

by Yassa Gautam, FY. Dept. of Planning, School of planning and architecture,New Delhi.

“An Inclusive City promotes growth with equity. It is a place where everyone, regardless of their economic means, gender, race, ethnicity or religion, is enabled and empowered to fully participate in the social, economic and political opportunities that cities have to offer.”(UN Definition of inclusive cites).Inclusive public spaces are both the result of, and a condition for, a socially sustainable society. Public spaces, by nature, are socially inclusive and pluralist .The ‘inclusive public space’ can be defined as possessing four mutually supportive qualities of ‘access’: i) physical access, ii) social access, iii) access to activities and discussions or intercommunications, iv) access to information. The first quality refers to the access to physical environment, as public space is the place in which everybody is entitled to be physically present. Social access, as also called ‘symbolic access’ by Carr et al. (1992), involves the presence of cues, in the form of people, design and management elements, suggesting who is and is not welcome in the space. The third and fourth qualities allow us to define the public space in conjunction with the ‘time’ dimension. Space where we live, work and experience is not only composed by three dimensions, it is rather a fourdimensional entity; ie an outcome of time, which might be studied under its development and use processes. Hence, the ‘inclusive’ public space is the place where the activities and discussions in its development and use processes are open to all. Similarly, the development process of the public space must ideally be accessible to everybody, whilst it includes various stages, in each of which the public may not be involved. Yet, there are some crucial activities and discussions, which must be open to all, such as the decision-making stage of developing a public space or planning for it , the preparation process of its design scheme. Therefore, the ‘inclusive public space’ is the place where public authorities are responsible for guaranteeing the existence of a public arena in which citizens express their attitudes, asserting their claims and using it for their purposes. This arena enables meanings and uses of a public space change in conformity with citizens’ needs and interests, and facilitates renegotiations of understandings to be ongoing between the public and public actors.

Inclusivity and social sustainability have a large overlap, with equity, diversity, quality of life, human development, attention for vulnerable social groups and democracy as important aspects. Nevertheless, sharing public spaces, implying a confrontation with people that have a different cultural, socio-economic or religious background, ethnicity, or values is incredibly valuable for a socially sustainable urban society. Encountering the unknown and engaging with difference is part of how people grow. It is very crucial to design public spaces sensitively to avoid exclusion for anyone ,let us take a small example of Indian roads ,in many cases there is no footpath present for the pedestrian and even if is there ,it is usually not designed for physically challenged people, handicapped people and visually impaired people. Thus it is as important to know who is invisible in public space, as knowing who claims that space, and how.The underlying reasons for such claims, might range from economic interests of private actors, to inequalities related to gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status, or political power relations. The most obvious mechanisms of exclusion are spatial. They go from fencing, creating gated communities or razor wire to accessibility problems for disabled or elderly people. Mobility systems also influence whether certain urban spaces are shared by all members of an urban society. A pro-active, participatory form of planning, in which co-production plays a central role, is a good basis to start from. Since public space reflects the values of the people that design, build, manage, control and use them, these have to be discussed and negotiated between all possible stakeholders on the basis of equality. The role of the planner is important in this respect since he or she has the expertise and imagination to translate abstract values and needs into specific spatial qualities and designs. The power of spatial design to mediate different interests and create an inclusive synergy is a crucial tool to negotiate a successful outcome. A spatial design is never a finished product, but should allow for people to share and appropriate it, for change and evolution over time, assuming multiple, complex, non-exclusive meanings in the process.
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