Francis, M. (1989). Control as a Dimension of Public-Space Quality. In _Public Places and Spaces_, I. Altman & E.H. Zube, eds. New York: Plenum Press.

Mark Francis, FASLA, FCELA, FIFUD, is Professor Emeritus, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design at UC Davis. He’s studied landscape architecture and urban design at Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, and is a founding partner of CoDesign/MIG. His work is at the nexus of landscape architecture, environmental psychology, geography, art, and urban design, where he examines natural and built landscapes’ design and meaning. He’s written over 70 articles and book chapters and at least six books.

In this chapter, Francis argues there are “participatory landscapes” claimed through emotions and behaviors. In terms of public space, Francis thinks about: the tensions between the public requirements and private agendas, public space’s growing function as home for the homeless, and how the control affects the perception of safety. Writing in 1989, Francis saw the then-increasing popularity of festival marketplaces and malls as testament to the public’s desire for more public spaces. However, Francis says, “Americans still do not yet know how to use public space” (149), and points to our collective misunderstanding of the Italian piazza. In order for it to work, you can’t shut it down at night. This matter of shutting down, of course, is a control/power question, and the people’s right to control the spaces which they inhabit is an “important yet poorly understood dimension” (147).

In 1986 Zube asked, “Who is public space for?” and distinguished among three groups: professionals, such as developers and policy makers; the “interested public,” who have more ownership, are included in the planning; and the”general public,” who have no design control. Francis gets more granular, identifying: users, those who use public space but aren’t asked; nonusers, those who don’t use parks because they lack visual or physical access; space managers and owners, the “powerful and influential space group” (152); public officials, and designers. For Francis, the extent to which spaces are designed through participatory process directs how successful that space will be. Some participation is tokenistic, of course, but when participation is done well, users’ sense of ownership will translate to healthy stewardship.

We now evaluate good public spaces in terms of their ability to convey “human connectedness” (at varying scales) and design involvement. Per Hester (1985), the more design involvement, the greater the later use. And per Lynch (1981), user satisfaction hinges on perceived control. Regarding control as a psychological construct, Altman (1975) enumerates are three types of territories that “differ on dimensions of duration of occupancy and psychological centrality” (157): (1) primary territories (e.g., homes, bedrooms, etc.); (2) secondary territories (e.g. bars, community parks), which are open to more but regulars do have the most control; and (3) public territories (e.g. bus seats, restaurants), which are open to anyone for short durations.

In his Theory of Good City Form (1981), Lynch proposes five dimensions of spatial control: presence, use and action, appropriation, modification, disposition. These give rise to a working definition of control of public places: “Control is the ability of individual or group to gain access to, utilize, gain ownership over, and attach meaning to a place” (158). Control can be individual or group, real or perceived, but it’s certainly correlated with self-esteem and gratification. A place must be seen as safe to be used, but true public spaces allow for conflict — democracy is a tension.


Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Public Space, Research Fields


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s