What attracts you to a space?
In her recent lecture “Measuring Pubic Space: The Star Model” by Dr Georgiana Varna, she talked about the five dimensions of publicness (through the star model) and how to measure the publicness of public spaces. The aspect that intrigued me was when she discussed Jan Gehl’s measurements for the quality of the urban environment.
The Domino Effect
Jan Gehl, a Danish Architect, characterised activities into three categories; Necessary, Optional and Social. He described optional activities as activities such as going for a stroll, standing around and enjoying life or sitting. These are by far more likely to occur when the urban environment (place) lends itself to them as they become more enjoyable and sociable.
A contemporary of Gehl’s, William Whyte, also thoroughly researched for a period of 16 years what attracted people to places. He noticed that when people occupy a place such as a park or plaza, it attracts other people to the same place. “The best-used plazas are sociable places…in absolute numbers, they attract more individuals than do the less used spaces.”
So, what are public social spaces?
In her lecture, Georgiana Varna described these spaces as “…well connected in the surrounding urban grid and designed according to principles that foster activity and social interaction, used by a large and diverse public in a variety of ways…”
According to Gehl, activity attracts people. “When the quality of outdoor areas is good, optional activities occur with increasing frequency. Furthermore, as levels of optional activity rise, the number of social activities usually increases substantially.” This results in more activity, which consequently results in more people. It is a human scale domino effect.
Ouseburn, the go-to place for most students of this generation within Newcastle, has become a thriving and exciting place to be both day and night, all year round. The once run-down area which had nothing to offer, is now on the social map as an exciting and lively community, which truly strives to cater to everyone’s needs.
Over the past 30-40 years there has been a slow-burn bottom-up approach to the regeneration. It has seen numerous attempts by the local council and government, professionals and the community alike to regenerate and bring life back to the valley; even adopting Conservation Area status in 2000.
It became the home to many local artists and creative industries alike who began occupying the buildings as they were restored. Some of the best examples include Cobalt Studios on Bond Street, Trade Union Printing Services which become Seven Stories (the home for the National Centre for Children’s books) and the old Ouseburn Board School Which was converted into a space where local start-up businesses could locate themselves. The list goes on and on with Toffee Factory, Kaleidoscope HQ and Biscuit Factory to name a couple more. As more and more businesses move to the area, as with the people, more are likely to and hence a domino effect happens once more.
Ouseburn Trust developed 5 key objectives as overarching principles throughout the entirety of the regeneration works. One objective, in particular, was “to support the improvement of the physical, social and economic environment of the Ouseburn Valley.” Now, with places like Ouseburn Farm and Seven Stories for children to The Cluny and Tyne Bar for the adults, activities-wise Ouseburn offers a varying amount.
Alongside the building restorations which offer a variety of activities, Ouseburn is the hub for numerous social events throughout the year such as Evolution Emerging and Hit The North (music events) to Open Studios (local creative events) to The Late Shows (city wide event). All of these provide ample opportunity for socialising in places designed exactly for that purpose. Even forgetting about all of these, the urban design of the area provides plenty of spaces to simply go for a walk or hang out with your friends, fitting into both the optional and social activities Jan Gehl outlined.
Yes, gentrification can have very negative connotations, but in some respects, it can definitely bring positive ones too. With the example of Ouseburn Valley in mind, the once derelict buildings now house small independent and local businesses bringing jobs to the area. The opening of the new pubs and social spaces bringing life and activity back to the neighbourhood. Ouseburn Regeneration was about restoring the character back to the area and enriching the architectural features which had been lost, such as re-opening the Victoria Tunnel. That’s why when the Wimpey Tower bid for a 32 storey tower block was proposed, it faced strong opposition and eventually had to be dropped.
 Georgiana Varna, “Measuring Pubic Space: The Star Model” (October 31, 2019).
 Jan Gehl, Three Types of Outdoor Activities, in The City Reader, 1987. Pg. 532
 Gehl. Pg. 532
 William H. Whyte, The Design of Spaces, in The City Reader, 1988. Pg. 512
 Varna, “Measuring Pubic Space: The Star Model.”
 Gehl, Three Types of Outdoor Activities, in The City Reader. Pg. 533
 Dave Cross, Ed, “Ouseburn Trust: A Short History,” September 2015, https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=ab2b173c-724e-472a-8ff1-a422cacfe297. [Accessed: 11th January 2020]
 Newcastle City Council, “Ouseburn Valley Urban Design Framework” (Newcastle City Council, n.d.), https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/sites/default/files/2019-01/OVUDF.pdf. [Accessed: 10th January 2020]
 Cross, Ed, “Ouseburn Trust: A Short History.” [Accessed: 11th January 2020]
 Ouseburn Trust, “A Celebration of 30 Years of Ouseburn Regneration,” 2012, https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=fb5f13c4-efb3-45b1-bd1d-725741666d28. [Accessed: 10th January 2020]
 Ouseburn Trust. 2012 [Accessed: 11th January 2020]
Figure 1: People enjoying sunny Ouseburn – Beadle, K. https://twitter.com/kev_beadle/status/993164540916436996
Figure 2: During Evolution Emerging, 2015 – https://www.google.com/search?hl=en-GB&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=thcbXv3IAfOS1fAPl5izkAY&q=ouseburn+social+community+cluny&oq=ouseburn+social+community+cluny&gs_l=img.3…25710.26344..27177…0.0..1.385.1202.1j1j2j1……0….1..gws-wiz-img.pZ8wn81IcPo&ved=0ahUKEwj9-7S0jv7mAhVzSRUIHRfMDGIQ4dUDCAc&uact=5
Figure 3: View from Cluny with Ouseburn Farm behind fence, 1985 – https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=ab2b173c-724e-472a-8ff1-a422cacfe297
Figure 4: Seven Stories with Cluny to the right, circa. 1980’s – https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=ab2b173c-724e-472a-8ff1-a422cacfe297
Figure 5: Ouseburn Valley, circa. 1960’s – https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=ab2b173c-724e-472a-8ff1-a422cacfe297
Figure 6: View of Toffee Factory before and after – Paul J, White – http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2013/World%20Cities/Newcastle/Newcastle.htm
Figure 7: Victoria Tunnel after re-opening, circa 2010 – https://www.ouseburntrust.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=ab2b173c-724e-472a-8ff1-a422cacfe297