Watch this Space

Urban literacy promotes the ability to read, interpret, design and shape urban spaces. An essential skill in today’s world. Watch this space can be an interesting starter kit for those who are willing to explore more about all this. It’s a Little book published in 2010, written by Hadley Dyer and illustrated by Marc Ngui.

Yes, it’s a book for children and as such it doesn’t delve much into urban theories, design trends, and public policies specifics. Nevertheless, it touches all those subjects and contains a lot of interesting information. The book is divided into four sections: [ What is/ Sharing / Designing / Fighting for ] Public Spaces.

The first chapter presents a definition of public spaces along with a brief historical perspective. It also contains three contemporary aspects: how shopping malls replaced many other PS (even though they are private), how urban sprawling hinders public life and the popularity of virtual social spaces.

  • How did the concept of public spaces change over time?
  • Why did they change?

The second chapter shows some examples of social interactions and its dynamics. Which, in some cases, require explicit regulations or unwritten rules in order to preserve a stable shared space or create a sense of security. Safety-in-numbers is one of the strategies shown here and video surveillance which is becoming ubiquitous is also presented.

  • How did you experience public spaces when you were a kid?
  • How do kids and teens experience it today?

The third chapter starts with an attribute list of good design, followed by the new seven wonders of the world. It also talks about some urban failures and inevitably includes transportation on this discussion. A car-oriented city has a completely different design from a people-oriented city.

  • Why can’t we design public spaces just as we did in the past?
  • What are the new challenges?

The last chapter is all about practical advice and real life examples to engage the community and implement change from a collective perspective.

  • How can we choose the best approach?
  • Are there any universal principles to advocate for a good public space?

The various topics covered in this book aren’t just random examples. On the contrary, for example, video surveillance and social media are facets of the big-data age we are living. In turn, social media, malls and suburbs are inextricably connected. It is a fertile ground for those interested in urban literacy.

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