1.2 What is the Urban Public Realm?

(Definitions – thanks to Wiki)

Public realm is defined as any publicly owned streets, pathways, right of ways, parks, publicly accessible open spaces and any public and civic building and facilities. The quality of our public realm is vital if we are to be successful in creating environments that people want to live and work in.

– United Kingdom
Local Plan Issues and Options Consultation, Appendix 1, Glossary
Chelmsford City Council, Chelmsford, Essex, England
http://consult.chelmsford.gov.uk/portal/issues_and_options/issues_and_options_consultation?pointId=s1447062431371, accessed July 26, 2019.

According to English Heritage, the public realm ‘…relates to all parts of the built environment where the public has free access. It encompasses: all streets, squares, and other rights of way, whether predominantly in residential, commercial or civic uses…’

– United Kingdom
Designing Buildings Wiki – Public Realm
https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Public_realm, accessed July 26, 2019.

The public realm includes all exterior places, linkages and built form elements that are physically and/or visually accessible regardless of ownership. These elements can include, but are not limited to, streets, pedestrian ways, bikeways, bridges, plazas, nodes, squares, transportation hubs, gateways, parks, waterfronts, natural features, view corridors, landmarks and building interfaces.

– Abu Dhabi Emirate
Abu Dhabi Public Realm Design Manual, Chapter 1,page 3.
https://www.cip-icu.ca/pdf/2011-HM-Urban-Design2(1).pdf, accessed July 26, 2019.

Municipal Development Plan (MDP) defined public realm as the space around, between and within buildings that are publicly accessible, including streets, squares, parks and open spaces.

– Federation of Calgary Communities (Canada)
Municipal Development Plan, Calgary, Ontario
https://www.calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Pages/Municipal-Development-Plan/Calgarys-growth-and-development.aspx, accessed July 26, 2019.

Role of the Public Realm: The community’s development fabric is composed of two distinct, yet inter-related components: the “public” realm and the “private” realm. The “public realm” consists primarily of the publicly-owned street rights-of-way and other publicly accessible open spaces such as parks, squares, plazas, courtyards, and alleys. The “private realm” consists of privately-owned areas in large part developed with buildings and associated improvements, and is more limited in its accessibility to the public.

– San Diego, CA
Urban Design: Role of the Public Realm
https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/legacy/planning/community/profiles/uptown/pdf/4_3_streets_the_public_realm.pdf, accessed July 26, 2019.

Public realm belongs to everyone. It comprises the streets, squares, parks, green spaces and other outdoor places that require no key to access them and are available, without charge for everyone to use. Public realm should not be seen in isolation but in the context of its adjacent buildings, their uses and its location in a wider network of public and private space. The three key elements that influence the public realm are:

  • The buildings that enclose and define the space;
  • The space itself; and
  • The people that inhabit the public realm and the way they use the space.


– Local Government Association of South Australia
Prepare, plan, deliver: Public Realm Urban Design Guidelines, Local Government Association of South Australia, 3 March 2014, page 8,
https://www.lga.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/Public%20Realm%20Urban%20Design%20Guidelines.pdf, accessed June 6, 2019.

The public realm consists of all of the spaces and places where Philadelphians have shared encounters each day. Sidewalks, streets, parks, and plazas are the areas where we can come together, socialize, intermingle and experience the city. The physical surroundings that define our public realm contribute to creating a sense of place and a quality of life that is unique to Philadelphia.

– City of Philadelphia, 2035 Plan
The Plan, Philadelphia 2035 Plan,
https://www.phila2035.org/plan, accessed July 26, 2019

The quality of the public realm—streets, sidewalks, plazas, and other publicly accessible spaces—influences our city’s livability, sustainability, safety, and health. More people will choose to walk as a mode of transportation if the surrounding environment is well-designed. A vibrant and high-performing public realm also contributes to the region’s competitiveness and the image of the city, attracting people to live, work, and visit Minneapolis.

– City of Minneapolis 2040 Plan
Minneapolis 2040: The City’s Comprehensive Plan
https://minneapolis2040.com/, accessed July 26, 2019.


Producing the Urban Public Realm: Field Notes on Project Implementation Copyright © by Peter Hendee Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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