Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Urban Aesthetics and Social Function of Actual Public Space: A Desirable Balance

Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Urban Aesthetics and Social Function of Actual Public Space: A Desirable Balance

Article excerpt


Green area, square, park, boulevard, garden are not the same, but each one is integrated under the common concept of living public space. Current society tends to confuse these concepts. The concept of green area appears with modern urban development, beginning in the nineteenth century and the subsequent modern development of the early twentieth century. This concept is not qualitative, but quantitative. Therefore, this concept combines urban variables amongst themselves: m2/inhabitant, m2/housing unit, m2/m2 built or similar, according to the different regulations in each country or region. However, the concept does not take into account the factors related to public perception, it is just a quantitative forecasting of urban planning. As such, it is not possible to speak of an urban plaza, park or garden.

Simultaneously, one of the most frequently discussed themes in many cities is the confusion between urban plaza and garden. Mediterranean cities have been both types, but they exist separate. Current culture tends to unify them under the general concept of urban public space. The plaza originates in the agora in ancient Greece, and in the forum in ancient Rome. An urban plaza is always a public place, open to the city, hardscaped, almost empty, devoid of vegetation and any permanent civic use (Favole, 1995). Instead, a garden has a biblical origin -Garden of Eden- and even in the emergence of postindustrial bourgeois society of the nineteenth century, it is always private. Gardens are closed, fenced in, and not paved. It is provided with abundant vegetation, decorated with sculptures and designed to give pleasure to the senses (Assunto, 1988). The idea of evocation, mystery and the concept of the Sublime, characteristic features of Romanticism and its way of thinking, are variables that are part of a garden and its aesthetic appreciation. The garden trees have functional criteria as shade, moisture or wind shelter. Furthermore, vegetation improves environmental perceptual quality: landscape, color or acoustic (Bailly, 1977). But trees also have benefits above and beyond their aesthetics, representing collective meaning, such as cultural identity or historical significance: "Trees have a very deep and crucial meaning to human beings. The significance of old trees is archetypal; in our dreams very often they stand for the wholeness of personality" (Alexander et al., 1977).

Public gardens in Mediterranean cities have different origins. Some have been newly created, but most have arisen from changes in land ownership and public openness of some private gardens. This case would be especially common in the post-industrial society and urban transformations of the nineteenth century: demolition of city walls (in all of Europe), planned urban reforms (Nash in London and Haussmann in Paris) and development of new urban models (Vienna's Ringstrasse and Barcelona's Ensanche). Other nineteenth-century gardens have their origin in the transformation of old medieval plazas, in order to meet the leisure needs of new urban social classes. All of these urban spaces have evolved throughout history as quality urban spaces and places for citizens to enjoy city life, acquiring civic character identity acknowledged by the citizens (Colesca and Alpopi, 2011). In fact, some contemporary urban interventions on romantic nineteenth-century gardens have transformed the original playful use into civic use. These circumstances have led in many cases to citizens perceiving and interpreting gardens as urban plazas.


New urban designs and current urban interventions rarely have quality. Defects such as nostalgia, horror vacui, cultural misunderstanding of abstract language, lack of dialogue between urban art and public space, or urban fetishism, are common problems that evidence that poor quality.

Nostalgia is a feeling that destroys modern thought in art. …

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