Why Public Space Matters

Oxford Univ Dec. 2022. 312p. ISBN 9780197543733. $29.95. SOC SCI
Low (environmental psychology, CUNY; Politics of Public Space) argues that public space can contribute to flourishing in terms of social justice, democracy, health and well-being, play and recreation, informal economy and social capital, sustainability, and cultural identity and place attachment. She supports this sensible argument through a dozen persuasive, if somewhat disconnected, case studies centered in New York and other metro locations, such as San José, Costa Rica, where she and her team interviewed and observed users of public spaces. Jones Beach on Long Island, Tompkins Square in Manhattan, and the Walkway Over the Hudson River are the most memorable settings for these ethnographies. Low skillfully weaves in quotes that capture the joyfulness and belonging made possible by these spaces, plus the ways in which they can devalue and exclude people. Spanning beaches, gardens, parks, plazas, and streets, this introductory survey reveals the impact of public spaces and offers a conceptual framework for understanding them in terms of governance, control, and symbolic meaning.
VERDICT Scholarly but still accessible to planners, activists, students, and general readers alike. A thoughtful and engaging exploration of mostly urban public spaces and why they matter for communities that care about socially just, equitable, sustainable, and flourishing societies.
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