Social Interaction in Public Spaces

'While there has been extensive research into the links between antisocial behaviour and public spaces (Newman, 1972; Coleman, 1990), less has been said about the social nature of these spaces. Antisocial behaviour, however defined, is felt more acutely in urban areas, particularly more deprived urban areas (DETR, 1998; Audit Commission, 2006). Some public spaces, particularly in town centres, have also faced difficulties associated with alcohol and drug use, the homeless and other ‘undesirable’ individuals. Drawing on the recommendations of Newman (1972) and Coleman (1990) among others, attempts have been made to ‘design out’ these problems by making public spaces unwelcoming, removing seating, preventing eating and regulation to deter loitering. Yet by making public space unattractive to these groups, so it becomes unattractive to many other potential users, and the actual ‘problems’ are not resolved, merely removed at best. By contrast, policy agendas on social inclusion and social cohesion, such as the Social Exclusion Unit’s programmes on Mental Health and Young Adults with Troubled Lives, have been aimed at removing barriers to the social inclusion of some groups often considered ‘undesirable’ users of public spaces, while the programme on Excluded Older People addresses one of the major ‘invisible’ groups (ODPM, 2005a). These initiatives suggest the need for a more fundamental approach to consider the public visibility and inclusion of marginalised groups and the regulation of behaviours in contested spaces. The process carried out in this study, of observing what people do where, contributes to understanding how social interactions occur and the connections in seemingly disparate elements of the urban environment'


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