The NZILA Education Foundation was registered by the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects in 1999 as a charitable trust with the Charities Commission. In 2015 the NZILA Education Foundation was renamed the Landscape Foundation.



Ensiyeh Ghavampour

Futuristic images of cities mostly include high rise building, large infrastructure, flying objects and seldom people. These images which unfortunately influence cities development are abstract utopian images of cities in the 70s.  Surprisingly, cities where our young generations like to work and live do not bear any similarities with these images. Livable cities do not have a landscape dominated by tall buildings or large infrastructure; instead they are green spaces with multifunctional spaces (Peter Elmlund1). Questioning the image of future cities led to formation of a multi-disciplinary forum, ‘Urban Thinker’, by UN-Habitat, Axson Johnson Foundation and Project for Public Space (PPS). Since 2011, ‘Urban Thinker’ has held three conferences with a focus on public spaces which has attracted a global audience of more than 5000 organization and 1500 individuals. The third and final Future of Place conference was an urban thinker’s campus entitled ‘Public space in the New Urban Agenda’. Held in Stockholm, 29 June through 1 July 2015, the meeting discussed the importance of public spaces and its effect on the New Urban Agenda, and prepared a submission for Habitat III, the third United Nations conference on housing and sustainable development2. The present paper is a report of the conference and directions that may apply to NZ.

1. Urban Thinker Campus: Public Space in THE New Urban Agenda

The Urban Thinker Campus: Public Space in the New Urban Agenda with 430 participants from 76 counties was a stage for exchange of experience between academics and researchers, practitioners, decision makers, civil society, and private sector representatives. This years’ Place forum joined with the World Campaign Urban Thinker to contribute to the future of public space in a new urban agenda through a written document ‘Public Space in a City We Need’. The document is to be presented at the UN- Habitat conference in 2016 as a direction for urban development taking place in the next 20 years. The aim is to move toward sustainable cities to address inequality, informal settlements, and environmental crisis.  Considering this background the conference was not only a stage for discussion but played an important role in development of the final draft of the document ‘Public Space in a City We Need’.

Given the importance of this aim, the conference structure focused on debating and drafting to guarantee the delivery of an agreed document.  Sessions were divided into four different categories: urban thinker sessions, urban labs, constituent group drafting sessions, and ‘the city we need’. Academic papers were also classified into eight groups; children, economy, environment, gender equality, heath, heritage, security, and urban form to match UN divisions. Presentations in Urban thinker sessions covered comprehensive topics from history of public spaces, bottom up development, vegetation and urban heat, design of place, to place making experiences, and design of built form. Along with the presentations, researchers, practitioners, and private sectors met to provide feedback for the drafted key messages produced by the World Urban Thinker. Every day of the conference was finished by report of the day presented by representative of The World Urban Thinker campaign. New Zealand participated in conference with three presentations: Place making in Auckland (Ludo Campbell-Reid), Exchange of experience from Christchurch (Ryan Reynolds), and a public spaces study in Wellington (Ensiyeh Ghavampour et. al).

2. Key messages of the conference

Discussions over three ‘Future of Place Conferences (I II II)’, on the importance of public spaces formed a set of key messages which reflects on the principles of the Global Charter and Un-Habitat toolkit of public space.  A deliberate effort of the urban campaign defined and provided a carefully crafted document which defined public space, design principles, and the benefits of having great public spaces.

Within the key messages, public space were defined as an open and accessible place to all people;  a social space with cultural and shared meaning that includes alleys, squares, parks, playgrounds, gardens, open spaces, and public facilities and venues.

Key messages emphasized the necessity of a framework that accommodates population changes and rapid growth through a connected network of streets and public spaces. It also discussed the need to provide more opportunity to engage people in the design of cities and public spaces. The draft highlighted a need for safe, connected, inclusive and accessible public spaces which satisfy human needs and enhance social life, facilitate creativity and exchange of knowledge, improve wellbeing of residents and celebrate cultural diversity.

Headlines of the key messages3:

  1. Development, maintenance and management of public space should be based on a people-centered approach. Public spaces should be managed and maintained with a shared responsibilitybetween the community, private and public sector
  2. Public space should be inclusive, designed for all vulnerable groups, be adaptable and accommodate a variety of users to facilitate social interactions
  3. Understanding of people’s behavior is crucial in the creation of functional, human scaled spaces. Public behaviour patterns need to be tested with temporary installations which then became a permanent design
  4. Streets play a crucial role in connecting public space and should act as a place for social and economic exchange rather a traffic corridor
  5. Public spaces should stimulate local economy through increasing people’s attachment to place
  6. Cities need to provide a range of public space include, semi-private , semi-public and do not reduce public spaces in favor of private spaces
  7. Public spaces and adjacent buildings should encourage social, economic, and environment sustainability
  8. Public space should be responsive to their cultural, geographic, and climate contextthrough different methods, e.g. public arts

Key message of the conference then defined some actions and implementation to reach described outcomes;

  • Increase awareness and sense of belonging through a creation of movement to facilitatecommunity groups, forums and discussion
  • Producing a national level framework to determine percentage of the allocated land for public spacesto ensure a balance between public space and the built part of the city
  • Introduction and examination of financial solution to expand the number of sustainable public spaces, e.g. conversion of private space to public space or public land acquisition
  • Produce a mechanism for design and management of public space at the national, regional, and local level.
  • Develop a legal framework to empower vulnerable groups through designing inclusive public space, job creation, and quality of life for low-income and disadvantaged groups
  • Introduce an open source stage to exchange knowledge, public space research, workshops, tools, methodologies , best practices, legislation for design and management of public space

3. Do we need A new design approach to shape new images of cities?
After all the discussions and the conclusions of the conference, which was an attempt to define and describe new images of future cities, the question is which design process or method can guarantee these defined outcomes?

During the conference a few groups of urban thinkers presented different ideas that could be a beginning of a new movement in design.  In contrast with the dominating discussion, this group of thinkers celebrated the dynamic and ever-changing nature of public space and tried to see cities and public spaces as ever changing spaces that need to be designed over time and shaped by users. In this view of design, informality is valued and people’s ability to create dynamic places is accepted.

Open city4
Open city is a project which questions the principles of the Charter of Athens. Since 1943 the Charter of Athens has had a strong effect on the built environment and encouraged rational designs that lead to a placelessness of cities. This project claims that cities should not be treated as a formal settlement. Instead they should be designed with an open system that allows residents to develop it based on what they need.  In this view informality is an ideal, designers are directing people instead of creating a fixed environment. This project aims to challenge designers to rethink of the way they are designing cities that are either bottom up or top down theories. Both will provide fixed built environments and will not provide opportunity for people to develop it over time.

Who owns the city5
Research on social and economic trends in several cities around the world presents changes in inhabitants (Saskia Sassen5). Cities are losing huge number of households every year as a result of foreign buyers. These buyers create a few mega private projects by unifying three or four sites. Saskia claimed cities used to be complex systems and incomplete, and within complexity and incompleteness people without power could make a life, and create culture and economy. She warns that this global movement is a treat to urban tissue, which has started to empty urban spaces. As a result land is more important for people and activities. She believes the reason for immigration is not that people are looking for a better life but this is a search for essential life that is a result of destroyed inhabitant. She concluded with this privatization of projects and loss of habitats we are facing new challenges in cities.

Informal settlement6
Robert Neuwirh as a journalist and author documented the condition of slums, before and after revitalization. His presentation argued that how designers attempt to change and enhance environmental quality led to a death of life. He claimed there is a beauty in informality and it needs to be valued rather than being destroyed.  He pointed out that 1.8 people are working in informal economic system which have a value of 10 billion dollars a year. Later he mentioned that if they gathered in one country they could be the second largest economy in the world. He concluded that with the increasing number of slums, Un–Habitat is unable to reach to its aim without valuing informal settlements potentials.

4. New Zealand

Place making in Auckland7
Ludo Campbell-Reid discussed the revolution of place making in Auckland, challenges the city faces, and the methods that have been used. He claimed that cities are not complicated but that it is all about people and their needs. “Maybe we need to be a psychologist before being an urban designer or an architect”. His photos from around the word illustrated how wrong we could go by ignoring simple human needs. He then described issues and challenges Auckland is facing now and how small changes can make a big difference. For example creating shared space in Auckland on old lanes and streets that used to be parking, has the proved power of place making in increasing foot traffic and economic growth. He explained how the change in the structure of the governing body from multiple to one (one mayor, one budget, one transport section, or planning department) has helped city transformation. Ludo concluded that to be successful in place making we need to have vision, work with people, engage indigenous people, let business shape their street, work with different institutes, measure the change, use events, and utilize temporary activation of public space.

Exchange of experience from Christchurch8
Ryan Reynolds gave an inspiring talk about temporary installation and their benefits. Gap Filler has facilitated temporary installation, events, and projects in Christchurch since the devastating earthquake in 2011. The short –term project allows for more experience, testing new ideas, and creates an opportunity for community participation. Gap Filler started its work with transforming empty land to a temporary garden café, using live music and poetry reading. The success of the project led to more innovative ideas in Christchurch and proved that regeneration can be done on a small scale, in a resourceful way, and led by community. Now this group activity is not limited to Christchurch as they provide consultation advice to those who want to have better cities around the world. Gap Filler is even involved in larger works and development of frameworks with a people focus.

Dynamic approach to Design of Public Space 9&10
Two chronological studies of public space; nature as a design element in small urban public spaces and theory of place in public space suggested more dynamic approaches to design.

A practical study which carried out observation of static behavior in four small urban spaces in Wellington CBD contended that place making is the result of contextual appreciation more than anything else. Observation of public space showed that design needs to be dependent on its context, provide more opportunity for a variety of social activity and behavior for different age and gender groups. This result alludes to users’ preferences and decision making being part of a process leading to activity in public space that is then tested in a theoretical study.  Using place theory, the theoretical study claims that use of public space is a result of individual cognitive- affective evaluation of space. This asserts that people’s preference of place is an individual process that may also change and will determine the way public space is defined or redefined by users over time. While this finding places emphasis on individual aspects of preference, studies demonstrated similar preference between cultural groups. The study claims that people are looking for experiences that remind them of their hometown landscape or their positive memories. This research criticizes the focus of place making projects on designing place for specific groups and claimed that as a population changes their needs and preference change. The study then suggests that the focus of theoretical study on individual understandings of place should shift to those which provide more opportunities for experience.  Place can be used by people if they are provided with positive experiences over time. Then when a place is redefined by a group of users it will be sodefined by others.  The relevance of this process is discussed for place-making, design, and recent planning initiatives to improve decision making and communication with users of public space.

5. References

1Elmlund, Peter (2015) retrieved from, September 2015
2 Future of Places
3 for a full list of the key messages refer to
4 Sennett, Richard (2015) Open City, retrieved from,, September 2015
5 Sassen, Saskia (2015) Who owns the city, retrieved from, September 2015
6 Neuwirh, Robert (2015)  Informal Settlement, Retrieved form, September 2015
7 Campbell-Reid, Ludo (2015), Placemaking in Auckland, retrieved from, September 2015
8 Reynolds, Ryan. Exchange of experience from Christchurch, retrieved from
9 Ghavampour. E, Brenda. V, Mark. A.D (2015), Theory of place in public space, retrieved from, September 2015
10 Ghavampour. E, Brenda. V, Mark. A.D (2015), Nature as a Design Element in Small Urban Public Spaces retrieved from, September 2015