Despite the Absence of the Public Sphere: How Common Goods Can Generate Opportunities for the Design of Public Spaces

  • Davide PonziniEmail author
Part of the Urban and Landscape Perspectives book series (URBANLAND, volume 14)


Modern urban planning and design implicitly or explicitly assumed the existence of the public sphere in order to define its goals and means and to legitimise planning choices. Over the last decades, critical trends, such as social interest fragmentation, economic globalisation and institutional subsidiarity, have deeply transformed contemporary society, economy and public administration, inducing several criticisms towards the existence of one public sphere conceived in modern terms. Since the substance and quality of public space also depend on contextual conditions, including material and immaterial common goods, it seems useful to start from here: localised common goods can be produced and cared for, even in the absence of a clearly defined public sphere, involving interesting opportunities to design public spaces. Critically drawing on international cases of public space transformation, this chapter shows that it is possible to reinterpret contemporary design by considering the ‘public’ as a contingent and local formation, which is related to collective problems or development opportunities. In this sense, it is possible to conceive meaningful public space design by pragmatically exploring the relationship between common goods and spatial transformation, stimulating public and latent interests and actors and expecting to generate a partial and sometimes problematic ‘public’.


Public sphere Public space Urban policy Common goods Cultural heritage Pragmatic approach Modern urban planning Contemporary city Incremental process 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Architecture and Urban StudiesPolitecnico di MilanoMilanItaly

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