Twenty: Conclusion

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Over the past decades, the academic debate on public space has been somewhat Janus-faced, with researchers generally expressing one of two considerations (van Melik, 2017). One set of authors has depicted public space as a socially open and accessible space where meeting and interaction occur, tolerance for diversity is enhanced, democratic values prevail, and art, theater, and performance take place (for example, Lofland, 1989; Watson, 2006; Valentine, 2008). Concurrent with this romanticized ideal, other authors express a sense of loss or nostalgia about public space being eroded and hence being under threat (for example, Mitchell, 1995; 2003; Kohn, 2004). In his critique of American urbanism, Michael Sorkin (1992) even went so far as to herald the ‘end of public space’. Authors in this second camp have painted a rather pessimistic picture of modern urban life; one that is characterized by neoliberal urban planning, consumerism, restrictive security measures, and social exclusion.

In a similar vein, chapters in this book by a mix of scholars (in law, criminology, geography, sociology, planning, architecture, and so on) have depicted both bleak and promising developments concerning public space and mobility in times of a global pandemic. With increased use of parks and pedestrian-oriented developments such as cycling and walking (see for example Chapters Sixteen and Eighteen), public spaces appear to be rediscovered by both policy makers and users alike. Public spaces are high on the urban planning and policy agendas, as Whitten and Massini (Chapter Nine) demonstrate when discussing London’s policies for greening the city.

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