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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public squares : an analysis of an urban space form and itsd functional determinants. Peter, George Michael


Historically the "public square" has been an important element in the physical design of cities drawing its functions from the political, religious, commercial and leisure life of the community. Research of literature has lead the author to conclude that historically the pedestrian usage of public squares was determined by factors of form, internal development, adjoining land and building uses, and the relationship of the square to the urban structure. The analysis of these factors in an historical survey and in an investigation, by field, research of eighteen contemporary squares, is the subject of the thesis. Squares were classified according to form and function. Paul Zucker's spatial analysis was used for the classification by form. This identifies: 1) the closed square; 2) the dominated square; 3) the nuclear square; 4) grouped squares; and 5) the amorphous square. The author's analysis of functional types identifies four categories. These are: 1) the internal function square - its use is independent of its surroundings; 2} the associated function square -its use is closely affiliated with the land and building uses that front onto the square; 3) the arterial node square - this is primarily an intersection within the urban communication system; 4) the multiple function square - this combines in one urban space the functions of the former functional types. Assume that the most useful type of public square in the central business district of a city is one which receives much continuous use by the community for both formal and casual activities. Then the study sets out to isolate the factors that determine the volumes of square usage by pedestrians and the ways that pedestrians will utilize this community facility. It was observed that many functions which were historically associated with the city square have either been discontinued or are now removed to more specialized urban structures. Numerous other functions continue to be a very significant aspect of public squares. The most prevalent type of square usage observed was for functions of leisure. These include informal casual usage for social recreation, meetings, and the enjoyment of the urban environment, and formal or special usage for such functions as dramas and spectacles, musical concerts, festivals, some athletic events, and the display of art works. Some functions of political, religious and commercial origin continue in varying degrees in some squares. The people who use squares come from a wide spectrum of age groups and occupations. Squares seem to have an appeal to the community as a whole. Some groups tend to use squares at particular times of the day; others use squares throughout the day. The analysis of the data lead to the following conclusions. Form - The form of a public square was not demonstrated to be a factor influencing the volume of pedestrian usage. Internal Development - The usage of squares is likely to increase as does the availability of amenable elements of internal development such as pools, fountains, sculpture, seating, pavement, lavatories, refreshment sources. A limited amount of vehicular traffic in squares does not adversely affect usage. The presence of people and other animate objects (especially pigeons) are a positive influence on pedestrian volumes. Adjoining Land and Building Uses - The squares with the broadest variety of adjoining uses and the greatest total number of adjoining uses tend to have the greatest usage. Land uses with the greatest continuous "turnover" of clients are beneficial generators of usage. Examples of adjoining land uses that correlate with heavy-usage of squares are churches, museums, art galleries, libraries, tourist facilities, restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, and certain retail shops. Low usage of squares was suggested, but not conclusive shown, to correlate with governmental and institutional uses, and theatres, cinemas, and auditoria. In some specific times, the adjoining land uses have no effect on the volume of usage. Urban Structure - Pedestrian usage tends to be greater when: the square is located in the approximate centre of the C. B. D. in an immediate area of high pedestrian levels, the availability of public open space in the vicinity is not abundant; the square is an arterial node in the urban transportation network with public transportation facilities available. If the square is to be developed as a vital element within the urban structure it should be planned so as to optimize the influence of those factors which will increase its amenity, desirability and hence the degree of its use.

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