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How may we see a public space as?

Well, a public space could be seen in various physical interventions such as a public square, a marketplace or even as green fields.

Image 1: Newcastle Grainger Market

Jan Gehl demonstrates the precepts of creating meaningful spaces, of course, not by quantitative head counts but by qualitative characteristics of public spaces[1]. If agreement is possible on anything, it is simply the focus of people in place and to social in physical of public realms that is important.

In recent debates, it is only true to add cultural values to physical intervention till we act upon what modernism has to play on public spaces. As this is a question that may linger in everyone’s mind is, where is the value of public space?

As William Whyte would hypothesize, it is not the shape and size of a public place that matters, it is the sitting areas and such other amenities that make a difference (Whyte, 1988). However, to what extent can this make a difference?

Indeed, there is a real issue in the digitalized world we live in, where one may see loss of public spaces has caused fragmentation in the city. In comparison, much like how cars changed the world, print press has changed the world, similarly digital smart phone has transformed our world too (Varna, 2019). It can be taken in a positive or a negative way. Hence, how might we tackle the concerns of the overpowering of technology over traditional and bodily experiences of a place? It is said that a good public place would have its own identity, feels safe, is accessible and adaptable.

Image 2: Use of smart phones in public space

In production of Space, Henri Lefebvre states,

“Not only are architects dominated by the dictates of bourgeois capitalism, but with their abstracted methods of representation they have reduced the world to a domain of blue-prints”[2].

Although this refers to a particular issue, it implies a loss of authenticity and standardisation of a place. We are more connected to places behind a 2D image in social media than we are captivating the culture we are at!

In the spirit of this topic, Georgiana Varna’s lecture on ‘Measuring Public Space’ identified various literature on how to make a public space better. Her PhD research conducted a normative ‘star model’ in which publicness was measured in 5 key factors which were; civility, animation, physical configuration, ownership and control (Varna, 2019). This further explains key concepts of publicness that helped in the research as well as in the professional practice. By doing so, there was a positive response in which allowed different authorities in charge of a public space to see what works and doesn’t work.

Image 3: Normative Star Model by Georgiana Varna

In her lecture she mentions huge debates on high streets in cities in Britain steadily taken over by online platforms such as Amazon being one of them. This then led me to think, will high street shops be a ‘thing’ of the past? and if so, what is the future of shopping going to look like?

High streets are considered to be the key heart of a city as spaces for leisure, social interaction and service provision. As result, a report entitled, ‘High Street and Town Centre in 2030’ was prepared by the local government committee and a number of political parties to help preserve traditional high street shops in Britain[3].

“The high street may be crumbling before us as we become a nation of technophiles, preferring to pore over our phones and do anything to avoid making face-to-face contact as we turn to a plethora of online outlets”[4].

Image 4: Online Stores vs Traditional Shops

This further supports the comment Don Mitchell made about how societies will only desire private interactions and private communication, merely leaving public space for commodified recreations (Mitchell, 1995).

A solution to this, is perhaps by looking at the pros and cons of saving high streets as shown below; –


  • It’s a social hub for communities to get together
  • Jobs will be at stake if there will be no high streets


  • It is quicker and cheaper to shop online
  • It is convenient

Mike Ashley, a British business billionaire and owner of several UK high street chains believes that,

“freer car parking and ‘click and collect’ systems are needed to get people back on to the high street”[5].

A point raised on an economical point of view on the current issue. Maybe it’s time to rethink about the decline of high street for new opportunities for a social hub such as cultural venues, pop-up shops, community centres or cafes for a better well-being in human interaction.

Image 5: Northumberland Street on November 2019

What sorts of things would be on your ideal high street?

What more could be done to help high streets shops?
Please comment below and share your thoughts!



[1] Gallacher, P. (2009). Everyday Spaces. London: Thomas Telford Publishing, p.67.

[2] Leach, N. (1997). Rethinking architecture. New York: Routledge, p.132.

[3] Should we try to save High Street? (2019). [PDF] The News Debate, pp.1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

[4] Neville, S. (2016). The future of shopping: from the screen to the high street? [Blog] Available at: [Accessed 10 January 2020].

[5] Should we try to save High Street? (2019). [PDF] The News Debate, pp.1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

Varna, G., (2019). Measuring Public space: the Star Model [Online Recap Lecture] Available at: [Accessed 29 December 2019].

Whyte, W (1988) The design of Spaces. In The City Reader, p. 514.

Image Refereces:

Image 1: Newcastle’s Christmas (n.d.). Newcastle Grainger Market. [image] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Image 2: BCM 240 (2013). SMART PHONE USERS IN PUBLIC SPACE. [image] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Image 3: Varna, G. and Tiesdell, S. (2020). Assessing the Publicness of Public Space: The Star Model of Publicness. [image] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

Image 4: Should we try to save High Street? (2019). [PDF] The News Debate, pp.1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].

Image 5: Ladwa, A (2019)


One response to “Where Does the Future of Consumerism lie – from your Screen or High Street?”

  1. Hi Ameeta! Thank you for your wonderful post about the modern high street. I found this a very fascinating read, we all kind of get the feeling that the high street is dying like you touched on and the old high streets are indeed struggling to keep up with modern technologies. Changes need to be made, when you stop and look at it the high street seems like quite a dated concept of the past, especially when put in the same spotlight as technology. However, I often wonder if that’s the case and what would I do differently.

    You question what more could be done to help high street shops had me thinking and I couldn’t help but to think of Manuel Castells, this is something that was addressed by Manuel Castells, he states:

    “We need a new theory of spatial forms and processes, adapted to the new social, technological, and spatial context” [1]

    In this article he concludes that the main challenge for urbanism in the ‘information age’ and with rapidly growing technology is to restore and maintain the culture of cities, and that public space is the key to this. The connection to local social life is something that can’t quite be the same online and many people will agree the experiences of going out in person and shopping online are complete opposites.

    With that in mind, I don’t think there is anything that can be done to help high streets, sure free parking and more shops would be a start, but realistically that wouldn’t happen for financial reasons. I think the two are two separate worlds that are still kind of getting to know each other, it came out in 2018 that 1 in every 5 pounds is spent online for UK retailers. [2]

    That Kind of figure gives me the implication that there is space for the two of them, online will surely take away from the high street, but it’s a relatively new exciting thing and they have a tendency to do that while they settle into society.

    In summary I hope that is the case, the experience of going out and seeing people in person is something that can’t really be fully realised online, and I think it’d be a sad day if it were to disappear.


    [1] Castells, M (2001) Space of Flows, Space of Places: Materials for a Theory of Urbanism in the Information Age, in The City Reader pp. 572-582

    [2] The Telegraph (2018) One in Every five pounds spent with UK retailers is now online[Online] Available at: [Accessed 17th Jan]

    [3] Varna, G. (2019). Measuring Public Space. Lecture, Newcastle University, delivered 31st Oct 2019.

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