LSSI Public Event: Reimagining the Future of Urban Public Space

This one day event will bring together academics (from diverse disciplines) and practitioners to explore the current challenges facing, and ways of reinvigorating, urban public space. It will explore both a number of contemporary themes and the manner in which these are played out in different types of public spaces – such as parks and green spaces; brownfield regeneration areas; market areas; and commercial and retail zones. Our intention is to deliver the conference around these significant themes and to provide a forum to debate current issues and explore new collaborations.   Potential questions for consideration include how might urban space be thought about and used in the future? What purposes might public space seek to secure? What are the core values of ‘publicness’ in public spaces?  And how do public spaces become sustainable?

The conference has been organised around the following key objectives:

  • to build new and enhance existing relations with external partners working in the design, management and governance of public space
  • to foster inter-disciplinary conversations and public debate about the future use, purpose and value of urban public space given the current social, economic and environmental challenges
  • to generate new research questions and future research collaborations and possibly to propose new experiments in the form and uses of public space in the city of Leeds for possible implementation
  • to bring together researchers across the social sciences, arts and humanities in Leeds working on aspects of urban public space and show-case existing and ongoing work and its impact


What we traditionally conceive of as ‘the public’ sphere is on the retreat: public services are at the mercy of austerity policies, public housing is being sold off or outsourced and the privatisation of public space is resulting in fears of exclusive urban developments and the ‘death of the public realm’. In a relentlessly neoliberal climate, the ‘urban commons’ offers an alternative to the 20th century battle between public and private. The idea of land or services that are commonly owned and managed speaks to a 21st-century sensibility of ‘participative citizenship’ and ‘peer-to-peer production’.

Programme (which is subject to change)

9.15 – 9.45am Registration and Coffee/Tea
9.45 – 10.00am Introduction/Welcome, Professor Jeremy Higham, Dean of the Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law, University of Leeds, and Professor Adam Crawford, Director of Leeds Social Sciences Institute, University of Leeds
10.00 – 11.30am Keynote Speakers:

Sophie Watson, Professor of Sociology, Open University

Allison Dutoit, Gehl Architects
11.30 – 11.45am Break
11.45 – 1.00pm  Parallel Workshops – Types of Urban Spaces: 
Workshop 1: Parks and green spaces

Urban parks are at a critical juncture with regard to future sustainability and, for some, green spaces are under-utilised assets. For instance, the DCLG Select Committee Inquiry calls for a re-invigoration of the role of the contemporary park in relation to  health and well-being, the local economy, climate change, flood risk management, social cohesion, education and green infrastructure alongside leisure and recreation.

This workshop will engage with both the challenges and opportunities facing public parks, in Leeds and beyond, and how research has/can contribute to the reimagining urban parks and greenspaces.

Workshop 2: Marketplaces

Markets (indoor or street marketplaces where food and other services are sold) are important public spaces for interaction between diverse groups of people. Academic research has identified them as particularly beneficial for low income groups, migrants, elderly people and vulnerable people in general. However markets are at a critical juncture as many are owned and managed by public authorities under budgetary constraints and there a trends for the gentrification of markets which can exclude people at the margins. Leeds Kirkgate Market, one of the biggest markets in Europe mirrors some of these issues. This workshop will discuss the wider challenges of markets as public inclusive spaces and their future.

Workshop 3: Commercial areas: challenges and opportunities

City centres present some contradictory agendas that can be summarised as: how to retain commercial and cultural intensity and the income these activities generate while improving environmental performance and quality, safety and inclusivity? The session will consider some of these elements, including:

  •  Maintaining, renewing and re-purposing buildings and spaces while preserving valued historic elements and maintaining viability of less attractive areas.
  • Reducing car throughput and eventually making the city centre car-free while not reducing the attractiveness of the city for businesses and visitors.
  • Attracting investors but not at any price; encouraging a long-term and publicly-responsible approach to investment rather than short-term value extraction.
  • Achieving a balance between busyness and tranquility; buildings, spaces and nature.
Workshop 4: Edge regeneration areas

Leeds is an example of a core city that continues to expand.  As a city centres it continues to push out in many directions creating a novel development dynamic where it meets other areas. Key questions emerge including how do patterns of land ownership and value change, what new functions emerge, what are the approaches to design and placemaking, how is connectivity and sustainability ensured, what relationships are established with neighbouring inner-city low income communities, what attention is given to measure to promote inclusive growth? These are crucial issues to explore to ensure that edge urban regeneration areas continue to deliver prosperity for all.

Workshop 5: University campus as ‘living lab’

The University of Leeds Living Lab for sustainability creates a space where innovation and research can be tried and tested, driving us to think and operate differently. It provides a fantastic opportunity to pilot or trial scalable, interdisciplinary sustainability research in collaboration with students and academic, operational and professional staff, using the University as a test bed.

This workshop will provide a brief overview of our Living Lab programme and share some current projects through case studies, before opening a conversation and opportunity to suggest and develop future ideas. The Living Lab is open to everyone, whether it’s a research-led campus design project addressing the challenges of climate change, trialling new sustainability initiatives with staff or students, or integrating biodiversity and wellbeing. It’s about people, processes and infrastructure and focusses on the cultural and social sciences as well as the STEM subjects.

1.00 – 1.45 pm Lunch
1.45 – 3.00 pm Parallel Workshops – Thematic Focus:
Workshop 6: Regulating public space

Public spaces are often contested spaces in terms of competing use and perceptions of (dis)orderliness. This workshop will focus on the challenges to regulating public spaces in ways that are welcoming, inclusive and safe yet avoid being overly ordered, sterile and securitised. Both in the day-time and night-time, a key attraction of the city is its vibrancy, diversity and cultural heterogeneity. For many, however, the city’s public spaces (specific places at particular times) can be hostile and unwelcoming to certain social groups – as evoked in various programmes to ‘reclaim the city’. It will consider different modes and styles of regulation and their appropriateness for reimagining the future of public space.

Workshop 7: Co-production/public engagement

Coproduction has gained popularity in recent years as a way to collectively diagnose urban challenges and coproduce solutions which have greater durability and effectiveness. It is a useful method which can encourage individuals to work together across workplace silos and interstitial practices. This workshop will explore the multiple ways in which coproduction can be used in leeds, focusing particularly on how to facilitate public access to information and how to build up common assets that can make communities more resilient and sustainable.

Workshop 8: Multifunctional Urban Green Space

What functions are involved and what processes are available to minimise conflicts between these, and to maximise performance and value?

Subjects to be covered include amenity, recreation, active travel, flood prevention, biodiversity, pollination, microclimates, urban cooling, carbon sequestration, air pollution mitigation, urban agriculture, community engagement, commercial potential.

Workshop 9: Clean air and liveable streets

This workshop explores ways of creating inclusive streets and roads where everyone can move about freely, without the threat of traffic pollution and pedestrian casualties and deaths. Getting to the places where activities happen is such a basic requirement that it is often overlooked. Yet this can lead to wider problems of social exclusion, and car dependency, as well as unsafe exposure to traffic. Fairer allocation of road spaces, and removal of barriers to movement on foot, plays a vital part in determining whether people can participate in social, economic, political and cultural activities. We will discuss what really needs to happen to create public spaces where transport pollution is at legal and then safe levels and yet people have the mobility and accessibility they need to fully participate in society.  

3.00 – 3.15 pm Break
3.15 – 4.30 pm Round Table/Panel Discussion
  with Anna Minton, Journalist/Author, University of East London; Matthew Bradbury, Parks Alliance; Irena Bauman, Architect; Angela Barnicle, South Bank Development
4.30 – 4.45 pm Concluding Reflections
5.00 – 6.30 pm Networking Reception (Parkinson Court)

Delegates can get involved by following and live tweeting from the event using the hashtag #ReFUPS

[register close=”4/06/2017″]

Speaker Biographies

Sophie Watson – Professor of Sociology in the Open University. Street markets as sites of sociality, cultural practices and innovation have been a longstanding area of her research since her study of Street Markets as Spaces of Social Interaction for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and her subsequent appointment as special adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Retail Street Markets in London.

Allison Dutoit – An Associate with Gehl Architects, she holds a position in the Department of Architecture and the Built Environment and the University of the West of England. Allison has practiced and taught in the United States, Denmark and the United Kingdom, as a building architect and as an urban designer, she is a regular guest critic and lecturer. She has led strategic and urban design work in the UK and Europe, and regularly deliver workshops and lectures.

Irena Bauman – Director of Bauman Lyons Architects and Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield. Her current practice based research is concerned with how architecture can facilitate local communities to mitigate, adapt and become more resilient. She recently completed research projects to develop Climate Change Adaptation Strategies and is currently working on Innovate UK projects developing MassBespoke digitally enabled construction system. She is author of How to be a Happy Architect (2008; Blag Dog Publications) which challenges architectural establishment to be more in tune with the needs of communities and she is currently writing a book entitled Retrofitting Neighbourhoods –Designing for Resilience collating some international case studies of transformative change at neighbourhood scale.

Ken Worpole – Emeritus Professor, Cities Institute London Metropolitan University. He has served on the UK government’s Urban Green Spaces Task Force, on the Expert Panel of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and as an adviser to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Ken Worpole is a writer and social historian, whose work includes many books on architecture, landscape and public policy. His principal interests concern the planning and design of new landscapes and public institutions, whether parks, playgrounds, libraries – as well as in townscape renewal and new urban green networks – and learning the lessons of 20th century urban democracy and the rise of the environmental movement. His publications include: New Jerusalem: the good city and the good society (2015, Swedenborg Society), Here Comes the Sun: Architecture and Public Space in 20th-century European Culture (2000, Reakion Books), Towns for People (1992, Open University Press).

David Lambert – Director of the Parks Agency, a consultancy specialising in public parks. He was previously the first Conservation Officer for the Garden History Society for ten years. He has been a research fellow at both the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at the University of York, 1984-88, and at the School of Conservation Studies at De Montfort University, 1990-93. David Lambert was an expert panel member for the Heritage Lottery Fund from its inception in 1996 until 2002, helping to establish and oversee its Urban Parks Programme. He has been a special adviser to a number of House of Commons Select Committee inquiries including the 1999 inquiry into town and country parks, and the 2000 inquiry into cemeteries.

Anna Minton – Writer and journalist and Reader in Architecture at the University of East London. Between 2011 and 2014, she was the Royal Commission’s Fellow in the Built Environment and in 2013 she joined the University of East London, where with Doug Spencer, she co-directors the MRes programme ‘Reading the Neoliberal City’. Anna Minton is author of Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City (2012, Penguin Books).

Matthew Bradbury – Chair and Chief Executive of the Parks Alliance. The Parks Alliance was established in 2013 by 40 key sector executives from across the UK to provide a single unified voice for parks and green spaces and to address the serious funding crisis in the sector. He has been Chief Executive of Nene Park Trust since July 2015.

Angela Barnicle – Asset Management at Leeds City Council. She is leading the Council’s team on the South Bank Development, Leeds’ regeneration programme – one of the largest city centre regeneration initiatives in Europe that will double the size of Leeds City Centre.


Watch presentations and read PowerPoint slides from the conference here.