Monday, 30 April 2007

Segregation in public space I'm always interested in medium size towns and what you can learn from the ways people occupy their spaces. Now here's a new JRF report on Social interactions in urban public places based on observed interactions between people of different ages across one year in Aylesbury, in southern England. The spaces included shopping malls, green open spaces, and local centres in residential areas. As we would expect, there were clear differences in use by age groups, with distinct timetabling of use: older adults were present in the town centre mainly in the mornings and early afternoon, but strikingly absent almost everywhere by evening. The researchers found little interaction between generations, particularly between strangers, and 'a distinct separation' between the public lives of younger and older people. I won't be the only one pointing out that the title is misleading, as it doesn't seem to be about social interactions. But aside from that, it's valuable to have research to back up widespread concerns about segregational effects in public space, and the importance of self-regulation as a source of public order. This study emphasises the essential tension in public spaces between the need to 'live and let live', and the need to manage and regulate. Successful management needs to involve constant negotiation between the extremes of over-regulation and laissez-faire approaches. Public education, information and involvement are essential to this process. The research suggests the need for some gradation of security, drawing on community support and harnessing the general inclination of people to self-regulate to avoid conflict. So this is a contribution to the ongoing debate about regulation and behaviour in the public realm, recognising people's natural inclinations towards informal co-operation and co-existence. Many people were deterred by the stark newness of 'cleaned up' spaces devoid of features and activity, and these spaces drew in 'alternative' uses to those intended. Residents, designers and planners have a particular vision of new developments that does not necessarily accommodate the full diversity of everyday life in towns. It is important to question why particular unplanned activities should be seen as unacceptable when they are conducted in spaces that are rarely used as they were intended. Findings. Report. Meanwhile, if we really want to see segregation in public space, we could all get on the buses in Jerusalem. Given the potent history of segregation on buses, you'd think they'd have some sense of irony.

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