Yuri Milevsky: Public space is not a street or a boulevard, this is a community

17 September 2019

Yuri Milevsky, Managing Partner at Novaya Zemlya design and consulting company, told the Moscow Architectural Council news portal what a public space means today and what the city-dwellers really want.

Before we discuss the efficiency and types of public spaces, we have to understand the terminology. The concept of a “public space” is used to define everything that separates us from home and work. This is not entirely true. Historically, an urban public space was a meeting place for the urban community, where its representatives, despite different views, found a way of cooperation and communication. Being the epicenter of public life, the functioning of a public space was simultaneously connected with the issues of organizing the life of the city, and those who could be in this space. In other words, an ideal public space is accessible to every representative of the urban community, where everyone can build communication with everyone else and, thus, take part in its organization and continuous development. This is not a street or a boulevard, this is a community. Even a cemetery can become a public space. For example, Pere-Lachaise in Paris, where, apart from mourners, musicians get together and young mothers walk with baby carriages. It means life, death, happiness, sadness - everything is mixed up, but no one feels ill at ease, and all participants in this community find a balance and a common language with one another.

As for Moscow, Chistoprudny Boulevard, where young people, street musicians, and residents of the district get together, can be relatively mentioned as an  example. A space of this kind is constantly in progress, it is evolving, acquiring new meanings and functions.

Speaking about parks, groves, embankments, streets created or improved at the initiative of a state, city or commercial organization, we usually mean quite specific functionality - something that does not apply to our home or work, but also not a public space. This is primarily a tool for solving a specific problem or achieving a specific goal - implementation of image-making projects, development of the urban economy, attraction of tourists, solution to educational, cultural or environmental issues. Creating spaces with such clearly defined functions often becomes one of the key factors in the development of the urban economy.

Therefore, efficiency or inefficiency of such spaces must be discussed taking into account the purpose of their creation. This is quite simple - if no one goes to a new park, or no one sells on a shopping street, then the space is inefficient and something needs changing.

I believe that in order to create a comfortable urban environment, we need to strive for a symbiosis of these two concepts. In addition to architectural and urban planning, social and cultural design should also be carried out. The initiative may come from the state, city or business representatives, but at the same time the management and development of this space takes place in constant cooperation with the urban community. In this case, this space will never become obsolete. (For example, when developing a project for the reconstruction of the central park in Novotroitsk, we held a round table with representatives of the customer, city administration, local business and urban communities. More than six thousand residents of the city took part in our online survey. All this helped us understand their expectations and needs and basing on them create a reconstruction project.)

It is important to remember that the work of experts does not end with putting the facility into operation. It lasts until the residents themselves learn to manage it. Let us take. N.A. Nikitin Park in Zheleznogorsk as an example.  There, we plan to create a foundation whose management will include all participants in the "life" of this space - representatives of business, government, investors, as well as key representatives of the urban community. They, it seems to us, should be engaged in cultural, event and commercial contents of the park. It is important to remember that for small cities such spaces do not just perform the function of recreation or solve the image problem, they also help local residents develop together with these objects, find new meanings and see prospects in their hometown.

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