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The Significance of Public Spaces

With the increase of population in a city, public spaces are much needed for livability. We need public space for many reasons, it is a public realm for the pedestrian to walk from point to point or to just simply have a break. The importance of public space is crucial especially in a highly dense population where people spent most of their time inside a building. Imagine spending eight hours inside a building with a minimum outside view and no interaction with nature. A human being is a ‘social animal’ that need spaces to interact, to express their feeling and thought.

Public space comprises the street, square, ‘Padang’ or green area and sidewalk. It is a responsibility that should be contributed not only by the government but also private sectors who are shaping the city through their proposal.

A good design of public space with consideration on local climate, culture and user’s need will be a successful space for all. Inclusivity should be the main agenda especially for the disabled, women and marginalised group. Public space such as sidewalks should be part of the street design with no obstruction, wide enough for a pedestrian to walk freely and with proper pavement material for the disable and children in a stroller. The provision of street furniture should also consider ergonomic of the locals and durable according to location. Trees are important elements in public space, it should be complementing the overall design, create the right ambience but with less maintenance. It should also be part of the character or identity of the public space.

Public space allows the pedestrian to stop and relax while enjoying the view (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur)

Proper maintenance is crucial for successful public space (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur)

However, high rise buildings are mushrooming with the concentration of indoor public space. Developers are more interested in pushing to the limit for floor area for the sake of profit. The development of public space become piecemeal or just following minimum requirement and not well design for public use. Are we just going to follow what the developers want it to be? Are they the one who shape our environment and affect our behaviour and emotions. These are the important questions to ask ourselves, as Churchill once said: "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." The way we shape our city is definitely affecting our daily life. Just imagine if we simply let developers whom many only think about money and cents and neglecting the importance of public space, shape our cities? Do we let them create fake public spaces which are indoor with less natural feel? We need to look at the city critically and understand that public spaces are not leftover spaces. It is the public realm, it is where people ‘breathe’ after being confined in the four walls all day long.

It is therefore crucial at the policymaker stage to understand the importance of providing public space. Local Authority which holds an enormous amount of responsibility in managing a city and approving development should look into the needs of creating public space under their initiative and also enforcing private sectors or developers to really design a proper public space which is not just complying the minimum requirement for the sake of getting Development Order. A comprehensive guideline is crucial in order to achieve this objective but enforcement is vital at Local Authority level. There is no point if everything is perfect on paper but the reality is far from it.

Suhaila Abdul Rashid






Image by Nicole Geri

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