The words public space and public realm are often interchanged, although in truth they are not exactly the same. When we think of public space, we tend to imagine parks and plazas, waterfronts and markets, but not the in-between spaces the streets, laneways, terraces, courtyards, views and even car parks that link up the larger spaces connecting our cities.
This entirety of outdoor spaces is the public realm, and although the specifics vary, creating this congenial shared precinct is what has shaped human settlements since the first cities were built.
The range of opportunities the public realm offers for achieving value is as diverse as its context, landscape and community. Much of this added value, environmental or community-based, is visible and relatively easy to evaluate. Less so is the economic value added to projects through good landscape and public realm design.
This is evident in public commentary on public space projects. This normally speaks to the more subjective beautification' aspects of public realm upgrades or public space improvements associated with commercial projects, because this is the easier-to-evaluate outcome of the project.
These beautification aspects will contribute to the popularity and identity of a project; initially adding value indirectly to the associated commercial offerings via increased customer footfall. However they are probably the most easily achieved aspects and can be the quickest to date.
This may be fine for quick wins or highly managed and constantly evolving urban environments with the luxury of long-term single leadership and ownership. But such an approach is not structural' or sustainable urban transformation in the long term. This needs to be able to support a range of known and future businesses without periodic reinvention.
Achieving greater economic potential from our urban infrastructure is a key outcome in supporting the intensification and sustainable growth of the urban environment. Landscape architects are leading the urban renaissance of our public realm. The strategic and multi-levelled approach to design, inherent in our training and thinking as landscape architects and urban designers, lends itself well to creating opportunities to add value.