Conference Poster

Public Space Third Place: Designing for informal public life in Oxford City Centre


Effective public space design hinges on robust interactions between its form (shape, size, access) and the dynamics of public life. Yet, designing spaces conducive to public life is complex, influenced by evolving factors such as culture, age, gender, sociology, and psychology. Subsequently, public spaces can often be removed from public life, contributing to declining civic engagement and the emergence of an increasingly individualised society (Gehl and Svarre, 2013). Additionally, competing demands for mobility and transit further diminish the sociability of public spaces, fostering a trend where social interactions increasingly occur in privatised spaces (Gehl, 2010). Oxford City Centre faces a culmination of these challenges, identified with a deficit of well-designed public spaces serving as a locus for public life (Oxford City Council, 2022), lacking bespoke design solutions. This research applies the 'third place' theory (Oldenburg, 1989) to encapsulate public life and its relationships with spaces that facilitate regular, voluntary, and informal gatherings outside of home and work. This research investigates ways to address this deficit, identifying Oxford City Centre’s highest potential spaces through morphological appraisal, generating a contextual understanding of their form, use and demand by conducting on-street observations and an online public questionnaire targeting Oxford residents. Results indicate the successes and shortcomings of these spaces in meeting people’s needs and activities, informing a design principle framework guiding future interventions to transform these spaces into third places. These outcomes offer context-based solutions for rest, play and social activity in order to foster closer interactions between people and the historic city centre.

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Townshend, Bryn

Oxford Brookes departments

School of the Built Environment


Year: 2024

© Townshend, Bryn

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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