The work in a multidisciplinary atmosphere and tackling different aspects of the digital development, as in CyberParks, make the call to create a common ground for understanding. Although it is not the intention to widely discuss a series of issues, there are terms that merit further assessment to be understood in the scope of the Project and this book. In CyberParks, urban landscape is considered as a complexity of various aspects, forming different visible features of a city, as a result of land take by humans. It includes a vast variety of natural, semi-natural and man-made/artificial environments. From CyberParks’ perspective the special focus has been on publicly accessible spaces. For the project use the public open space is understood in its broadest sense: It is a type of land use, the unbuilt space or space free of large built structures, planned, designed and managed in public interest with particular purpose, in general by a city council. The adjective public connotes a space that is generally open and accessible to people on equal terms. The typology of public open spaces includes spaces for mobility, recreation, for the merit of their environmental benefits, and to address ecology and biodiversity, and public health. Among them are streets and walkways, squares, plazas, market places, parks, green spaces, greenways, community gardens, playgrounds, waterfronts, etc., each one playing different but vital roles in a city. A city with a wide range of open space typology is more likely to be able to open different possibilities for use and to fulfil equivalently the different needs, preferences and expectations (responsiveness) of different users’ groups (inclusiveness), and welcoming atmosphere for all, not only in physical, but also in psychological and social senses, forming territorial identity and image (Šuklje Erjavec 2010). Henceforth, the term public spaces will be used, independent of different connotations and features they might have.
Public spaces are widely recognised as a crucial aspect of sustainability and people friendly development of cities and play a relevant role for the quality of urban life. There is a consensus that the creation of healthy, attractive and sustainable urban environment not only depends on the presence, distribution, interconnection and accessibility to open spaces, but also their usability in terms of attractiveness, responsiveness, and inclusiveness. A growing body of research indicates their environmental, social, cultural and economic values and benefits (GreenKeys 2008). For CyberParks, the social quality of an open space is in the centre of attention, as they allow people to gather together, in planned and serendipitous ways, to interact with other people, with the community and the environment. An open space enables people to be in public, to practice sociability on neutral ground, in green spaces to contact with nature, providing them the ground for a variety of every day and occasional activities and experiences. An open space is thus the place for communication, interaction, connection and encounters, for inhabitants and visitors, as well as place to express cultural diversity. The social interactions are important for defining a sense of place, for contributing to people’s physical, cultural, and spiritual well-being (Šuklje Erjavec 2010), for the personal development and social learning, and for the development of tolerance (Larice and Macdonald 2013). This is an interesting line of though as it suggests, as Amin (2006) argued that the free and unfettered socialising in an open public space encourages forbearance towards others, pleasure in the urban experience, appreciation for the shared commons, and an interest in civic and political life.
Public spaces can be regarded as the soul of a city. Their qualities validate the assumption that they reflect the attention and care by councils of the public realm. As it is in public spaces that some of the best and the worst characteristics of urban life and society are created, observed and reproduced (Šuklje Erjavec 2010). In fact, one of the main factors that determines the appropriation of a place and the resulting people’s behaviour in this place, is the intrinsic connection between urban design, and more in particular the design of public spaces. Carmona et al. (2010: 106) aptly pointed out, that human behaviour in the public realm is largely influenced by the amenities and facilitates provided. The design and elements provided in a public space provide opportunities for staying, doing activities and interactions - enhancing community life, or alternatively their absence does not enact such actions. If public spaces are not located where people need them, if they are not safe and easy to access, if do not meet the needs and expectations of people no one will use them. How can people value an old tree if there is none there, or stay and enjoy the sunshine if there no benches to sit? Such aspects are relevant if the call for getting people to be outdoors, and to lead to an active and healthy lifestyle is to succeed. Quite conversely and for sure not future-oriented is the development in several American cities as Crawford (2017) reports, where benches are being teared out from the urban landscape as an effort to not offer opportunities for vagrancy and crime, so homeless people and loiterers cannot settle. Such development, that could be called anti-design is for sure bad for publicness and urban life.
Such development made raise to tackle the concern on inclusiveness. No doubt, urban societies are facing concerns due to expanding social diversification, what blurs and dilutes the concept of cohesive society (Holland et al. 2007), and this makes the design of public places meant to be for all in such society more difficult and challenging. Inclusiveness has to do with offering adequate and balanced opportunity for all in the appropriation of public spaces. In fact, the concentration of unwanted, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in public spaces creates a sense of insecurity and entrapment, turning communication often difficult, as different social groups use different languages and have different attitudes and frameworks (Madanipour et al. 2014). And these also make interactions more difficult.
Different appropriation patterns of children, teenagers and adults, diverging expectations of women and men regarding public spaces, as well as dissimilar aesthetic preferences depending on social groups (Löw 2015) put pressure on the design, production and maintenance of public spaces. In Western Europe, inclusiveness calls above all for making public realm more age-friendly. Tackling such differences should however be at the same time taking the challenge for creating new opportunities. This includes the analysis of practices of negotiating the urban environment, what in the end leads to shaping civic and political culture. This argument endorses again a wide range of typology of public spaces, as the more different spaces (with different sizes and features) provided, the more opportunities people have to appropriate and enjoy, enlivening in this way the urban environment. Jacobs (1961) also recognises that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody”, and this “created” must be a result of deliberated, pro-active urban policy.
CyberParks is addressing potentials of new digital technologies to open new opportunities for improving inclusiveness of public open spaces from several aspects. Another paramount issue related to the public space is the place-responsive concept. It is related to the inclusiveness, as a public space being inclusive should meet the need, preferences and expectations of users but also introduces a dynamic time-change frame for a nowadays rapid changing society. Responsiveness is another aspect considered a crucial in CyberParks. It addresses the people friendliness of the urban landscape and it should go beyond recreation (Turner 2004) creating “places” for new needs and activities, new way of uses and experiences (Thompson 2002). Therefore, a public space with its own logic and dynamism, must be able to cope with changes over time, and has accordingly to be able to respond to these changes. The technological advancements are undoubtedly developing a new wide range of possibilities of real time and place responsiveness, in different ways, aspects and intensities, challenging open space planners, designers and managers to use them within their co-creation processes and design solutions.
CyberParks’ understanding of public spaces indicates a complex and multi-faceted perspective, blending the physical characteristics of the space with attached values, memories, stories, art, etc. The addition of such attachments, be them individual or collective, is the enabler of turning a space into a place (the aforementioned mutation). While space is related to something abstract, devoid of a substantial meaning, place refers to how people are aware of, and attracted to a certain piece of space. A place is thus the result of a process of identification between people and a space, which holds a creative tension between deep experience and critical awareness.
Such broader perception of public open space as a cumulative and undivided resource is the vital basis for its strategic planning, design and management, and now to be enhanced by technology. For the sake of clarity and simplicity, and because it best captures what people care most about, CyberParks adopted the concept of public open space as drawn broadly to recognise the intersection of built-social as well as virtual environment and their influences in the socio-spatial practices. Thus, the typology of public spaces addressed by CyberParks encompasses both physical space and the virtual meeting places in form of social media, those however devoted to public spaces concerns.