Public-ness Research

privately owned public spaces

Publik Secrets is conducting an ongoing research project into the multi-faceted and complex nature of public space in Vancouver. Public spaces are pivotal to the daily course of people’s lives. As a respite from the hustle and bustle of the automobile-dominated streetscape, a space for moments of reflection, or a place to connect with others, public spaces are the primary vestiges of an urban commons. With the emergence of public-private partnerships as a widespread form of urban development, privately-owned public spaces have come to signify an increasingly dominant model of public space provision, with far-reaching implications for the possibilities of a participatory, democratic city.

Public space covers a spectrum ranging from squares, plazas, waterfronts, sidewalks, parks and indoor spaces such as atriums. We located the outdoor urban plaza as a common and notable example of privately owned spaces which complicates the neat binary between public and private, combining elements of private ownership, securitization, rules and restrictions, with publicly accessible amenities such as shelter and seating. We chose to map the locations of privately owned public spaces within the downtown business district as a way provide insight into the prevalence of these hybrid spaces. Inspired by the psycho-geographic processes of the situationist movement, our research practice also includes acts of dwelling in these spaces as a way to produce insights into their characteristics of design, atmosphere, and diversity of use.