Public Space: Fights and Fictions

PETER ZLONICKY

Peter Zlonicky is Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning and Design at the Technical University in Dortmund. He has led many major research projects on social aspects of housing and on the future development of inner city areas. As Scientific Director in the International Building Exhibition ‘EmscherPark’ he was member of a multidisciplinary team restructuring the region and creating a new ‘green-blue infrastructure’.
As head of the Office of Urban Studies, Munich, Peter Zlonicky has overseen leading urban planning projects in Bonn and in Berlin (parliamentary and governmental districts in both cities), as well as city development projects in Dortmund, Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Muenster and Weimar. In his work as a consultant, he has been involved in cooperation projects in Brazil, Egypt, Gambia, Haiti, Syria, Morocco, Israel/Palestine, Libya, and Sibiu/Romania. Since 2007, he has been consultant to the Policy Board on National Urban Development Policy in Berlin. Peter Zlonicky was awarded the Federal Order of Merit in recognition of his lifetime work.

Public space as common ground of civil society
Public space is the fingerprint of our cities—it shapes the cities individuality, its cultural, social, economic identity. It is owned by the civil society, and it should be a common ground.

Central issues
Public space has an indispensable significance for communication. Especially in times of communication by public media, citizens need an open urban space to meet and act in.
Public space has a compensatory social function. In times of low standards of housing (poverty, migrants) open space can offer a substitute for small apartments (parks, spaces without economic obligations, etc.).
Public space serves as a political forum. In case of conflicts, civil society has the right to use public space to express messages and discuss different positions as well as common levels of understanding.

Common conditions
The requirements for a common ground need some clear agreements between citizens and their political board, such as…

  • free access to public space for everybody day and night at any time,
  • balance between functional (infrastructure, mobility etc.) and individual use,
  • restrictions on the commercial use of public space,
  • limits of public surveillance,
  • public participation.

Some of these basic requirements will have an impact on the city budget.

Political turn to common ground
Planning activities have to set priorities: Public space first! After first setting the framework of public space, decisions on private projects can follow.
Decisions on city development, especially the release of public-owned space for private and commercial use, need to be heedful of how they affect the quality of public life. Any reduction in public space must be balanced.
The transparency of city development is a precondition for public participation, and public participation is a precondition for the revaluation of public space to common ground.
Common ground is the laboratory of communication between citizens and democratic boards.