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Public Space

"As city leaders, we need to champion the development of public space policies at city, regional, national and global levels. We have taken the opportunity to network, learn and develop a body of knowledge on public space." 

James Nxumalo
Mayor of Durban-eThekwini, South Africa

"Managing the city is working for people, and to a great extent, to the qualification of public spaces, scenario of social, political and urban life. It is a unique work, meant to a place and time, but intrinsically collective, appropriate to exchanges and global learning." 

José Fortunati
Mayor of Porto Alegre, Brazil


We are at a time when local and regional governments across the world face severe challenges and crises. Nonetheless, we have a clear responsibility to look ahead and create the conditions for a better future for all. As we move ahead, it becomes apparent that the well-being of citizen, including vulnerable groups, is influenced by the immediate environment. Public spaces have a direct impact in the life of the people; therefore, urban policies should be developed in the territories, based on people’s needs.

Public spaces play a fundamental role in the configuration of cities and in urban quality. Streets, squares and parks “soften” the urban landscape and especially in very densely populated cities, public spaces become vital for urban life. Public spaces also host innumerable cultural, political, religious and commercial activities and provide the community with both work and infrastructure. Legal frameworks and declarations of fundamental rights often neglect public spaces. They must be recognized as a public service, like water and sanitation, and as an essential part of the Right to the City for all urban residents.

The production of inclusive, quality, accessible and safe public spaces constitutes a tool through which cities can work to reduce levels of inequality, particularly as these are spaces that make it possible to reduce socio-spatial segregation and to increase social cohesion between citizens. This helps to explain the importance of local governments’ role in the planning, management, and administration of public spaces. 


Unlike many other areas of urban policy, public spaces are the full responsibility of local governments (with the community), either officially or by default. Strong urban governance with accountable, transparent and effective institutions can ensure the quality and quantity of public spaces. Local authorities and governments are mandated to create and manage public spaces as part of the urban commons in the public interest:

Local governments work with communities, the private sector and marginalized groups to balance competing interests in the pursuit of the common good.

A stronger synchronization of international, national and local government’s efforts towards public space can ensure the implementation of the policies to be people‐centered.

Public interest prevails over private interest. Cities must avoid the privatization and speculation of public space thereby preventing a net loss of public space as a proportion of urban development.

Local government planning needs to ensure that public spaces are plentiful, inclusive and accessible to all residents. Local governments create public spaces where they don’t exist, in both existing urban and rural areas and new developments. Guiding documents such as local and municipal plans help to develop planning at the local level.  

Governments and stakeholders should also ensure that adequate resources for the operation and maintenance of public spaces are provided to ensure long-term sustainability.  Place-keeping is crucial when dealing with public space. Specific tools including different collaboration between public and private sectors as well as the civil society needs to be developed. 

Local governments have a duty to promote the use of public spaces in an equitable way by finding the right balance between regulation and deregulation of the use of public spaces. The rules around the uses and activities on public spaces should be given particular attention to avoid negative impact on the urban life and how they might have effects on vulnerable groups. This may require differentiated strategies at city-wide and neighbourhood level.

Public spaces are often neglected by legal frameworks and declarations of fundamental rights. Public spaces must be recognized as a basic local service, like water and sanitation, and as an essential part of the Right to the City for all urban residents.