Public spaces and urban aesthetics

Parks and RecreationI do not know about you but I value urban spaces or places more when I can linger for no reason and just enjoy the moment. The Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica does that for me. So as an urbanite with strong natural environmental sensibilities it is an inevitability that I am drawn to spaces with a myriad of appeals. The Emancipation Park first of all being situated in the mid -city satisfies a ‘soft’ amongst ‘hard’ element as illustrated by the top right photo (credited to Allan King). I like that about urban spaces that even with the high rises and the hustle of the city that there can be found, calming oasis for rest and recreation…the analogy which comes to mind is a speed bump on the busy roadways of the city traffic. Similarly, as the name attest and the image on the right aimed at evoking, Emancipation Park was established to commemorate an important part of the country’s history. The symbolism is also that as a people we should remove the shackles that continued to inhibit our minds, thoughts and actions…. and of course the statue is also open to other interpretation. After all, public art and in fact art of any kind should be open to interpretation. I for one take every opportunity to admire this work whether in passing or when I visit the park to relax. It amazes me that I have different and varied feelings and interpretations depending on my mood on the given day…

It is also notable that both private and corporate citizens are utilizing the park for exercise and sponsored events. Further there are park furnishings recently installed which facilitates more options for users. I once lingered at the park just watching an old man ‘take some young men to school’ in a spirited game of chest… I just love to admire human interactions of that nature… even as I am writing about it I have a smile on my face.


I therefore want to posit that urban spaces and places should evoke some type of feeling or appeal to one of the human senses. Urban spaces should be designed or equipped with the appropriate facilities and fixtures including art  which enhances the hard concrete facade we have unfortunately become accustomed to in the city.


In addition there are some other elements for the access and use of public spaces which I also believe to be key. On that directly related note, I answered one of the questions  asked in an urban dialogue for the Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Public Spaces recently concluded in Barcelona. The question being, ‘what is the public space model that best promotes equity in the city?’ The following formed a part of my response.

The model would have to be one that enables multiple modality of uses and access to the public spaces thereby promoting  (or facilitating if you will) the equitable ‘use’ of the space within the city. Access to the public space  would include: (a) walkability (b) pedestrian & cycle friendly (c) limitation/restrictions of large vehicle closer to the location (d) my favourite -opportunities for ‘lingering.’ People should be encouraged, by an inviting aesthetic and deliberate design, to desire to spend leisure time in the cities. The appeal for public gathering offering opportunities for strangers and acquaintances to meet and sit for impromptu chats and discussions.

The industrial hard edges and the fast paced commerce characteristic should be designed away from city centres. The concentric zone theory would be customized (in accordance to the size of cities) with the conscious classification of zones -within- zones. In this instance within the city centre there would be clearly delineated recreational park zones with the access factors accounted for as outlined above. Practical solutions!


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