Past Present and Future of Public Space - Research Group
In the contemporary city discontinuity and diversity characterize the built environment: it's recognizable at least a consolidated centre, while the rest of the urban structure is blurred, mainly lacking in public spaces. Two realities coexist in the same whole: one is the expression of the spirit of place through heritage, a static superimposition derived from history, the other speaks the language of time, containing all contradictions of modern planning theory with a dynamic acceleration towards the future. Just apparently this two parts do not share the same identity: the analysis, if based on a comprehensive approach, can reveal a more satisfactory and nuanced urbanism, taking into account new fruitions of public dimension. Nowadays, by means of technology, people can experience public life across real and virtual, communicate personal emotions, browse local historic documents, wish for neighbourhood improvements, connecting the real public city to the ever-changing spirit of place and time.
The recent literature shows the limits of modern town-planning theory in front of the complexity of new needs expressed by contemporary urban populations. The aim of the present work is to describe the difficulties in defining and enclose within certain limits the subject “city” and the lack of a strong belief in the interpretation of political, economic and social transformations that invested society and the whole world during the last century. The contemporary city, beyond the administrative areas, territorial expansions and urban patterns, beyond infrastructures, technology, functionalism and global markets, is also a physical concentration of people and buildings, a place of human relations, of variety of uses and groups, of dense social relations where cohesions’ processes or social exclusion occur, of cultural codes that govern behaviour and identity, expressed physically and symbolically through public spaces of city life. It is clearly observable that contemporary city needs a plan which deals with quality of life and well-being. This reference is positively innovative, because imposes to local government to relate with the subjectivity of active citizens and, at the same time, discloses the need for a wider and transversal approach to the city and a closer relationship between technicians/experts and leaders of political and administrative staff. So it is properly this need, new and difficult, which creates the widespread feeling of a starting new urban season, much more than morphological changes of the city could represent.
When people are asked to describe the city where they live, especially in Europe, they will probably answer referring to the old centre or to the downtown area. Often they are able to describe the network of public spaces and to give information on how to reach on foot shops or public facilities, searching buildings, churches, squares, paths and facades in their own mental map, flipping through the urban-ness of the old city (Sieverts, 2003). However if they are asked where they spend their leisure time on a typical day, most of them will probably answer referring to shopping malls in the suburbs, which are related to major roads and infrastructures. In the Italian fragmented landscape of outskirts, urban form is marked by big box retail stores as masses and automobile connections as voids. During past decades, malls have progressively changed to best accommodate consumers' needs: they strongly enlarged their structure introducing a variety of services and entertainments, such as movies and restaurants, fast-food arcades, libraries and other recreational activities, together with office developments, thus becoming attractive community centres. This paper will investigate how Italian suburbs have deeply changed due to large luxury shopping malls, in terms of urban typology and patterns but mainly in terms of mobility and public life.