Public Spaces – Their Use and Management: What the USER Project Teaches us.


By URBACT, on May 7th, 2014

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When we think “public space management”, what usually comes to mind is household waste management and keeping the public space looking attractive (treating damage, graffiti, etc.). Our discussions at the Lisbon seminar of USER Project helped us put these essential management activities back into a broader context. The main message that comes out of the discussions was: “Management should be planned and organised to meet users’ needs. But users themselves should be able to feel responsible for the public spaces they use”.

Tailoring management to the way public spaces are used


USER_URBACT_sacs poubelleThe importance of involving users in the everyday maintenance of the public spaces they use was stressed by all partners. To foster this involvement, the public space must be sufficiently attractive for users to identify with the place and to develop a feeling of belonging that will make them feel more responsible for the way this public space is used.

Users also have an important role to play in structuring management activities. Local authorities need to listen to the users – all of the users! Users will help them set priorities and spot problems; they will give their opinion on the way public space is used, and help pinpoint the problems that might arise in managing a future urban project. This is essential for management operations to be organised in a way that addresses the specific needs of each public space and takes into account the way it is used: “one-size-fits-all” management solutions are rarely effective because they are simply not suitable.

Designing a manageable urban form

Management is often seen as unrelated to the urban project, and simply added on at the end. On the contrary, though, it should be taken into consideration from the preliminary planning phases and not long after a public space has been delivered. This would prevent planners from designing urban forms that are difficult to manage (because of technical difficulties or misuse). It would encourage planners to clarify each party’s responsibilities by deliberately addressing the often complex problem of who owns public spaces. For efficient long term management, all of the urban project’s stakeholders must take this factor into consideration.
And know who manages what!


This raises a question that is often at the core of the problems encountered by USER cities, namely how to organise the management partnership and clarify each partner’s responsibilities.

Municipalities are often seen as the primary body responsible for managing public spaces. But municipalities’ internal organisation is often too segmented to be able to effectively meet the need, when the technical staff and the urban planning staff do not work hand-in-hand for instance.

Another difficulty is that many other stakeholders are involved, or should be involved, in managing and maintaining public spaces (e.g. other public bodies, private owners, etc.), but often this partnership is not clearly defined. Therefore it is extremely important to coordinate these stakeholders more effectively, to clarify each party’s responsibilities and to agree on a clear decision-making process, so that public spaces are managed well and therefore used well.

Finally, the issue of the lack of financial resources to provide effective and long-term management was inevitably raised. However, as we have seen, management costs could be substantially optimised or even reduced if the choices made (regarding urban planning and technical operations) are appropriate and if the partnership and the technical organisation is structured in a way that can deliver good management efficiently.


By Claire Prédal, USER project Coordinator, Grenoble Alpes Métropole


2 Responses to “Public Spaces – Their Use and Management: What the USER Project Teaches us.”

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