Public space in an age of austerity

The DEMOSSPACE project was funded by the Norwegian Research Council and aimed to enhance the state of the art of research on democratic and inclusive urban public spaces by generating knowledge on how governance models and urban design can ensure their development. This collaborative project was led by the Norwegian Institute of Urban and Regional Research.

Among other foci of the project, Public space in an age of austerity utilised an overview of the decade 2008 to 2017, and looking comparatively across four northern European cities, reflected on the changing nature of public space during these austerity years and on the processes of shaping public spaces. The work drew from the experiences of London, Copenhagen, Malmo and Oslo to explore processes of the design, development, use and management of public spaces during this period.

The evidence suggests that we have witnessed a period of significant innovation, side by side with major challenges to the collective approach to public spaces. This has led to distinct forms of public spaces that for good or ill have multiplied as a result of the trends discussed in the paper, spaces of; expectation; the private/public sphere; spectacle; respite; infrastructure; diversion; income generation; security; the ephemeral city; community control; occupation; disadvantage; and decline. Episodes of changing practice were revealed that cumulatively reveal distinct and significant changes during the austerity era, although not necessarily in the manner that might have been expected. Instead, in these four cities, austerity seems to have been eclipsed by other evolving and competing public policy goals, and by the evolving range of public space types.