THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC SPACE

Urban Vaastu has been campaigning for ready access to public spaces whether for relaxation or for staging cultural, sports or social events in cities. We give a glimpse of some public spaces around the world that have shaped and changed the destiny of nations.

India is a unique land. Myriad festivals are celebrated round the year. Some such as Holi, Uttarayan, Navratri, Dusshera, Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Christmas and Diwali transcend faith bringing people together in celebrative mood.
Festivals are community events and when people meet friendship is rekindled. But for community events to take place public space assumes vital importance. Sadly, Indian cities woefully lack public space as those that were available have become overcrowded. Celebrations do take place but with many restrictions.
Public space ensures walks, sports tournaments, or any events that call for large gatherings. But a hectic urban lifestyle with galloping population has made accessing public spaces a luxury in India. Social interaction and development too have been hit.

How do we go from here when land is limited but the need for public parks, plazas, waterfront promenades or just plain open spaces is growing? There is also the health aspect when kids need to play. Sometimes in the name of accessing public spaces kids make use of disused plots of land that could as well be a dumping ground for public waste.
We focus on some of the prominent places in the world with public plazas:
TIMES SQUARE, NEW YORK
A major public space in midtown Manhattan, New York City, it is at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. One of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, it is the hub of Broadway Theatre, a major centre of the world’s entertainment industry.
It is one of the world’s most visited tourist centres drawing 50 million visitors annually. Approximately 330,000 people pass through it daily while over 460,000 walk through on busy days. Between March 2012 and February 2013, it had 128.79 million visitors, more than Disney theme parks worldwide or in Orlando, Florida.

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PIAZZA NAVONA, ROME

This is a beautiful public space in the Italian capital, famous for its architecture, restaurants, and fountains. Tourists eat at one of the many restaurants in the square and take pictures in front of the three famous fountains: Fontana die Quattro Fiumi, the Fontana del Moro, and the Fontana del Nettuno.
The Piazza Navona is on top of an old stadium which dates to the first century AD. During this period, Romans came to the stadium of Domitian (which can still be seen today). The “agones” or games or circus is what the Romans came to see and enjoy.

New York Times Square

OLD TOWN SQUARE, PRAGUE

Dating back to 700 years, it is one of the two main squares in the Czech capital. This public space with ancient buildings and magnificent churches is one of the most historical places in Europe. In the 12th century it was the central marketplace for Prague.
The most notable sights on the square are the Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock, Tyn Church,
St Nicholas Church and the statue of Czech philosopher Jan Hus, erected in 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.

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COVENT GARDENS, LONDON

Once housing London’s oldest market, it now has boutique stores, classy restaurants, theatres, a place to see street performers and shop in typically English markets. In the 13th century, a 40-acre kitchen garden belonging to the Abbey of St. Peter at Westminster covered the Covent Garden area providing fresh fruits and vegetables to the city. In 1540 the land was given to many rich and powerful Earls. It was here that St. Paul’s Church and Theatre Royal was built.
Among the attractions at Covent Garden are the Royal opera house, Covent Garden Square (Piazza or as open spaces referred to in Italy), St Paul’s Church, local pubs, the London Transport Museum, the Theatre Museum and many markets that sell antiques, clothing, jewellery, leather goods, clothing, art, and sweets.

On Thursdays, food markets are set up on the East Piazza. For entertainment, there are street performers, opera, ballet, classical music, and art galleries at a number of venues.

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OSTERMALMSTORG, STOCKHOLM

It is characterised by a cluster of high-end residential areas and situated in the central part of the Swedish capital. With an extensive network of public transport, this area is visitor-friendly.
Dramaten (Royal Dramatic Theatre), which is situated here, is Sweden’s national theatre. The use of white marble stones with glittering gold decorations highlight the elegance of the national theatre that stands right opposite the Royal Palace.

This hidden gem of Östermalm district consists of a gallery, an exhibition area, and a store. The range of items on display include furniture, glass, textiles and graphic designs.


FEDERATION SQUARE, MELBOURNE

Located in the interior of the Australian city, it lies on three major public spaces – St. Paul’s Court, The Square, and The Atrium. Built on a concrete deck above busy railway lines, it is Melbourne’s first public square. The initiative was taken by Melbourne City Council in 1968. However, redevelopment of the square in the 1990s failed to address serious flaws in its design.