Why public space matters

Date: 12 December 2023
Time: 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Location: Online via Zoom
Future event

Tuesday 12 December ’23 (1pm ET / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET)

Aerial view of a small park in an urban area, with a focus on an open but covered man-made structure (meeting area) providing space for meeting in a shaded environment

Continuing our exploration of place and placemaking, Setha Low joins us to examine the importance of public space to the creation of towns and cities that flourish, and how the methodology she’s designed – Toolkit for the Ethnographic Study of Space (TESS) – can be used to address public space problems and implement positive change.

Public space benefits, including social justice, health and well-being, resilience, creativity, social capital, cultural identity, and ecological sustainability, are some of the many ways that public space improves human and non-human lives and the environment.  

Sharing case studies from thirty-five years of international ethnographic fieldwork on plazas, walkways, parks, markets, and beaches, Setha presents a new understanding of the role of social contact, public culture, and affective atmosphere in the creation of places essential to everyday urban life. Her multi-method fieldwork emphasises the importance of public space to social justice and democratic practices sustained through people’s experience of representation, recognition of difference, inclusion, and care, as well as opportunities for contestation and resistance. 

Setha demonstrates how public space provides a context for socialisation of children, and improves physical and mental well-being. Pavements, parks, and plazas offer business opportunities through public markets and informal selling, and locations for festivals and celebrations that promote a sense of belonging, place attachment and the opportunity to share cultural practices. Parks, urban gardens, and waterways construct sustainable greenways for water retention and wildlife and improve ecosystem services. During disasters, public spaces become locations of social solidarity and support.

About our speaker

Setha Low, a national and international expert on public space and social justice, is the Director of the Public Space Research Group (PSRG) and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Environmental Psychology, and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Setha began her career as the first medical anthropologist to address social health and well-being through evidence-based landscape architecture and regional planning, at the University of Pennsylvania. Setha’s placemaking toolkit TESS is used in design schools across the Americas, by the UN Habitat Global Public Space Program, and through the World Urban Forum. A recent project Setha has undertaken involved overseeing in-depth studies of New York State parks to understand who uses the parks, describe their experiences, and reveal how these parks contribute to visitor well-being, a sense of inclusion and belonging, and stewardship. Setha currently heads the Global Public Space Network and is a partner of the UN Habitat Global Public Space Program. As well as continuing to teach full time at the Graduate Center and lecture at Pratt Institute (Design), Setha is also author of over 100 articles and 15 books. Over the course of her career, Setha has been the recipient of many career and book awards, attesting to her multidisciplinary theoretical and practice-based contribution to placemaking.

Register for the event

Members: our online seminars are free for all to attend. For non-members, the ticket cost is £15 per person. Purchased tickets are non-refundable.

Not a member, unable to join us in-person or for the live-streamed event but would like to watch it at a time convenient to you? We offer the option to watch the event recording on a time-limited basis for the cost of a £15 ticket. Tickets are available to purchase via PayPal or by invoice / bank transfer. Unfortunately we are unable to process credit card transactions. Please email Kate for more information and / or to buy your ticket(s).

To book your place(s), please get in touch with our administrator Kate at enquiries@signdesignsociety.co.uk.