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The privatization of public space: modeling and measuring publicness


  • Jeremy Németh
  • Stephen Schmidt


Privately owned public spaces are frequently criticized for diminishing the publicness of public space by restricting social interaction, constraining individual liberties, and excluding undesirable populations. This study empirically determines whether, as is commonly believed, privately owned public spaces are more controlled than publicly owned spaces. To frame our empirical work, we propose a conceptual model that identifies publicness as the interaction between the ownership, management, and uses/users of a space. We then examine the management dimension using an observation-based index to assess spatial management paradigms in publicly and privately owned spaces. We find that the use of the private sector to provide publicly accessible space leads to increased control over use, behavior, and access. Furthermore, while both publicly and privately owned public spaces tend equally to encourage public use and access, managers of privately owned spaces tend to employ more features that control behavior within those spaces. More specifically, spatial control in privately owned spaces is normally achieved through the use of surveillance and policing techniques as well as design measures that ‘code’ spaces as private. Important findings are presented for planners, policy makers, and others concerned with the future of publicly accessible spaces.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremy Németh & Stephen Schmidt, 2011. "The privatization of public space: modeling and measuring publicness," Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 38(1), pages 5-23, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envirb:v:38:y:2011:i:1:p:5-23

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