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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public realm planning and design : creating more livable communities Gregory, Karen A.


The public realm is defined as space that is shared communally by the public. It is intimately linked to the ideas of universal access, the common ground, and shared amenities. Examples of public space include parks, plazas, pedestrian pathways, and streets. Traditionally the public realm has served a social function - acting as a medium of communication, tool for social awareness and learning, etc. However, it is acknowledged that these social functions are idealistic, and not necessarily reflective of the current norm. The actual and virtual decentralization of place has negatively impacted how the public realm posits itself in terms of its function, and the value that is attributed to it. This has been further compounded by transitions in the public realm, and rapid urban growth and change. The thesis seeks to address this problem by exploring public realm planning and design to provide a comprehensive understanding of public spaces and their role in contributing to more livable communities. The primary research objective of the thesis is to determine how social design approaches to public realm planning and design can maintain the value of place amidst growth and change in the contemporary city. In support of this objective, the research also seeks to determine the role of the public realm in urban North America, and how social design and place-based planning and design approaches contribute to the public realm. Four primary research methodologies were used to provide information in support of the aforementioned purpose and objective: literature review, informal interviews, survey work, and participant observation. To provide contextual meaning and further insight, the latter two of these methods were applied during case study research to determine how people living and working in Yaletown access, use, and perceive the public realm. Through the application of social design principles and approaches, the case study was successful in illustrating that user participation in public realm studies can be effective in gaining a better understanding of human-environment relationships. The research findings demonstrated patterns of behaviour and local perceptions in and of the Yaletown public realm which provided the basis for conclusions and recommendations about design elements (transportation, signage, vegetation, street furniture, weather protection, public art) and planning and design approaches (incremental and evaluative, interdisciplinary, inclusive and holistic). The thesis demonstrates that planning and design rooted in the ideology of social design - placemaking with people - provides the means to meet the individual and collective needs, values, and expectations of local users, while further perpetuating the value of place in the public realm. In essence, this provides framework for "creating more livable communities".

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