What Makes a Good Public Space?

INTRO

An outcry for the creative revival of public space has emerged in contemporary society. As a result, a surge of refashioning and repurposing our built environment for public use has been illustrated by the reclamation of such places. The landscape of our lives is becoming progressively transformed through architecture, art, technology and infrastructure. These projects intentionally influence the way people embrace and use their cities, inspiring connectivity and encouraging community within their surroundings.

With globalisation, cities grow in scale and its citizens become more isolated. Traditionally, cities are rarely built to cope with the demands that immigration and tourism bring. Discussions over the last few decades have observed the loss of democratic public space to privatisation. Concepts and strategies on urban planning have shifted focus towards the citizens, and have concluded smart cities to be those that are people-centric. The development of Iskandar Puteri draws on its rich history of trade and cultural exchange, honouring Asian warmth and hospitality whilst nourishing innovative ideas and economic growth.

 

REAL AND VIRTUAL SPACE + INFRASTRUCTURE

As opposed to a top-down or bottom-up structure, cities increasingly become a dialogue between the private and public sector. Social needs, coming from the ground, drive the city vision as the private sector provides solutions for the good of society in methods that are both discreet and direct. Concise, organised demands from NGOs and the voices from neighbourhood councils are instrumental in this critical and creative spatial discourse. The conversation between sectors also provide the opportunity to imbue technology as part of the solution.

Technology has the ability to streamline connectivity; a necessity for a more integrated society. Social media continually proves efficient as an instrument of daily issues. Using technological advances as a tool has the potential to assist local identity and engage citizens with their city, contributing to a smooth experience. Such developments possess the capability to present and preserve the heritage and cultural identity of a place with the necessary information provided, distributed effectively.

Infrastructure can support technology and connectivity, promoting and recognising the value of a city history in order to move forward. Meaningful technology for people can lead to a higher quality life. The need to be within the location of one’s work place can be tackled with sophisticated infrastructure, simultaneously decondensing areas and easing mobility within the city. Connected citizens are therefore connected with the world at large as real and virtual space operate in tandem.

 

SPATIAL MOBILISATION

Iskandar Puteri strategically lies within close proximity of Singapore and are indelibly tied to each other, bringing in a flood of people from a variety of backgrounds. The township caters to a wide range of residents, meeting the different needs of the community and encouraging diversity. Our traditional perspectives on space are necessarily challenged. Rather, we begin to understand space as an abstract idea that is thoughtfully constructed in reality. The ways in which society unfolds can be explored in the layout of a place, moving crowds, information and ideas. Transitory space is an often overlooked segment of society with features such as bridges, shortcuts, pathways literally and metaphorically transporting us. As we move across the landscape of our lives, the placement of these help us overcome the passive confinements of the everyday structures we build in our minds and our environments.

 

GREEN SPACE

When considering social and inclusive public space, a sense of cohesive flow must be achieved. Within the next couple of decades, a majority of the world’s population will be town or city dwelling for the first time in history. Arguments surrounding our divorce from nature fear for Mother Earth’s reduction to a leisurely pastime, enjoyed by the upper classes. The contemporary phenomena of urban gardening and cultivating green spaces in cities has arisen, enriching our living spaces. The definitions of the conventional garden and idealised terms like nature are being revivified, giving us fresh eyes for understanding urbanity. Polarising words such as the city and the country begin to weaken.

An example in Iskandar Puteri of this purposeful integration is the project, Johor Green, ran by JOGREEN Enterprise. This is primarily focused on cultivating a green and sustainable urban lifestyle, partnering with individuals, artists, artisans and small enterprises practising ethical and sustainable principles. By creating the availability of space, the community is able to promote their work, products and methodology to public attention. Various events are held there including green markets, talks and workshops. Through their website and social media, they encourage conversations on sustainability in local and global arenas.

The latest development is the launch of two green parks; a favourable four-acre Edible Park that is a platform for cultivating community around sustainable food and a seven-acre Heritage Forest, described as a “wild landscape providing an escape in the city” that showcases the local botanic heritage whilst re-establishing the lush biodiversity. Johor Green are also collaborating with UEM Sunrise to develop regular green markets at Puteri Harbour, Anjung and Medini Mall. Parties working in symbiosis to improve the well-being of citizens is achieved in the culmination of creating such beneficial and interactive spaces.

 

ART

Another visible example of this hybridization of space is labDNA’s public art program, Konstruk. Featuring fifteen artists and architects from all over ASEA, a range of captivating sculptures have been constructed along Puteri Harbour using bamboo as an alternative and sustainable material. With intentions of creating a local identity for Iskandar Puteri, the project not only creates the prospect of enjoying the outdoors, contributing to social inclusion and integration, the artwork displayed in this unique space also has the potential to offer an experience that can extend beyond city boundaries. The park space is able to grow and adapt alongside the population.

Konstruk unites urban planners, architects and other creatives to engage with the community with little resistance or oppositional thinking. Rather, each collaborator is able to learn from each other, critically and wholeheartedly. Through the display of various techniques within ASEA, the program breathes new life into disappearing traditions of construction and craft, promoting local knowledge. The installations are also site-specific, responding to their immediate environment and the narratives that run through the region. The space is filled with the harmony of values that we collectively define as Iskandar Puteri. Although the city is developed by a certain number of individuals in society, the city is ultimately used and given a character by everyone; innovative public art can be an exceptional tool for social interaction and cultural communication. Through sharing thoughts, ideas, opinions and information, one can see in these sculptural examples a demonstration of the unity between political and public spheres.

Andi Ramdani, an Indonesian visual artist and sculptor, has always been intrigued by nature. He works with bamboo in an almost painterly process, weaving the material freely into his desired form. His contemplation has exposed its incredible versatility, bending and intertwining like a reflection of the complexity of Iskandar Puteri’s culturally diverse inhabitants. With a heavy consideration of locale, collaboration and sustainability he has created a sculpture that imagines hope for the future. A large, playful structure of two hands coming together to form a love heart creates a frame through which the residents of Iskandar Puteri can view Singapore. Not only does this signify the relationship between the two urban collaborators but attempts to weave the gaps in the regular urban fabric as the viewer and collective mindset are one in their roles as both medium and translator in the urban discourse. Andi successfully catalyses society and the physical environment through human involvement, rooting it in a local identity.

 

CONCLUSION

The interacting duality of physical space and human activity are inherently complex, beautiful and chaotic. It is imperative for urban planning to wholesomely consider human activity in the city or it rejects what a city fundamentally is. Concepts of public space, democracy and citizenship are ultimately redefined by people through life experience. When a project succeeds, it is the people who apply meaning to the public space whatever and wherever it may be, that can influence their outlook on life.

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