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Thanks Gin, for bringing up the importance of public space in urban design in your post. Spending most of your time walking and cycling during your trip in Paris must be very interesting and let you learn a lot, because I believe these are the best ways to experience and understand a city. The quality of public space greatly influences citizens’ daily life and to a large extent determines visitors’ impression of a city. As John Ruskin said, “The measure of any great civilisation is its cities and a measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares.” Well-designed public space is social place that invites people to stay and catalyse various activities to take place, while some other spaces are just for crossing. Jan Gehl’s 12 criteria of public space design that set based on three aspects: protection, comfort and delight stress the importance of human senses and needs.

In order to design good public space, it is necessary to understand the relationship between physical environment and human behaviour. For example, “Edge effect” refers to the phenomenon that people prefer to stay at the edges of open space to observe the surrounding environment, so that niches, columns or benches at the edges provide good opportunities for people to stand or sit (Gehl 2006). Besides, urban elements such as pedestals, steps, bollards and stones that provide opportunities for an informal way of sitting are sometimes more popular than primary seating (Gehl 2010).

Kim Dovey’s advocacy of underdetermined space (2016) also reflects the concept of flexibility in public space design. He suggests that overdetermined design limits the way people use a space, while underdetermined design encourages various possible functions.


Fig 1. Underdetermined seating (Source:
Fig 2. Overdetermined Seating (Source:

Therefore, it is more important to consider how the space works than how it looks like when designing a public space.


Dovey K, 2016, Urban Design Thinking: A conceptual Toolkit, Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Gehl J, 2006, Life between buildings: Using public Space, Danish Architectural Press, Copenhagen

Gehl J, 2010, Cities for people, Island Press, Washington

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