The Accessibility of Public Space: Let’s Count the Ways

Authors: Karen Franck*, new jersey institute of technology
Topics: Urban Geography, Landscape, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: public space, accessibility, design, management
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Delaware A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Accessibility is a defining characteristic of urban public space: that is, that it is open to all and, in the US, without charge, even when the spaces are privately owned. However, accessibility can be achieved or limited, both intentionally and unintentionally. In the most basic sense a public space is accessible when anyone can physically enter it without impediment created by physical barriers or by the presence of police or other authorities. The ability to enter may be limited to certain hours, to groups no larger than a certain size, according to apparent intentions of those entering and by the location of the space (e.g. outdoors or indoors, above or below ground level). In these ways accessibility can be limited physically and by management practices. More subjective features of accessibility are those occupants or potential occupants perceive. Is the space easily seen from adjacent public spaces? Is it clear that occupying the space does not require the purchase of any items, as for instance, from a café located in, or adjacent to, the space? Is it perceived as safe? It is also possible that some groups of people feel comfortable and accepted in the space while others do not, even when there is no overt management or other practices that lead to these perceptions. Using illustrative cases, this paper explores the ways that urban public spaces vary in accessibility both by type of space (e.g. parks vs privately owned public space) and over time.

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