Types of open spaces

Overview and clarifying terminology

Terminology is important here as I have made a clear distinction between ‘place’ and ‘space’, It makes the use of the term ‘open space’ as the overall descriptor problematic. As well, the term ‘open’ is also problematic when used to describe public non-places, because they a certainly not always open to the public for use – e.g. shopping malls will have opening and closing times – and some – for example shopping malls – are enclosed and not open to the weather. So, what term should be used as the generic descriptor in this context? At this point I don’t have a simple term, so I will use the rather clumsy but accurate term ‘public places and spaces’, and avoid the temptation to make it an acronym.

The notion of ‘public’ here is not about tenure or ownership, but relates to the public being able to use a place or space, even though the access to it is controlled by a private interest.

My categories or types of places and spaces

In my first blog, I identified three broad types of places and spaces:

  • A public place – which is owned publicly, has regular users who have a certain sense of ownership and private geography. Social interactions are common here;
  • A public space – which is owned publicly, is frequently used by passer-byer’s who don’t really have a sense of ownership and there is a very weak sense of private geography; and
  • A public non-place – which is generally privately owned, is created for people who want to use the primary service of the owner, and this space is somewhere to wait or pass through. These places have little sense of ownership by the users, and favour solitary behaviour over social interactions.

This is a very coarse categorization and not very useful, and a more detailed categorization is required. A typical approach would be to review the literature, and whilst this should provide an outcome with some academic rigour, I have adopted a more direct and observational approach. Over the past 10 or so years, when I became deeply interested in places and spaces as an academic, I have visited and photographed many examples from all over Perth (my home city), other cities in Australia, and many cities overseas as part of my travels. I have countless photographs and memories to draw on, and this is a much more interesting way to think about places and spaces rather than reading endless academic articles on the subject. My understanding of how to categorise places and spaces has been, in part, informed by my student, where, as part of my university teachings, I have got my students to think about how to categorise places and spaces. I use an exercise where I have shown students photographs of 96 different places and spaces I have visited from all over the world, and asked them to work out their own way of categorizing them. Each time I do this there are several themes that are common, but also some interesting differences and innovative ways of categorising places and spaces. The discussion below is informed by both my own observations and thinking, and the thinking of my students.

For the most part, the categories that I have come up with are primarily about a single place or space, where the whole site functions as a single type. Large places and spaces can be heterogeneous and not fit a single type, especially large public places.

The diagram below shows categories I have come up with.


The next three blogs will give more details of each category based on the three broad types.