Austria, Vienna

Understanding Public Spaces - Unravelling Complexities

when 1 July 2016 - 8 July 2016
language English
duration 1 week
credits 5 ECTS
fee EUR 290

Public spaces are important places in city and urban life. The functions ascribed to public space are broad, ranging from political representation, the possibility of political protest and demonstration, to economic use (such as markets) and the politics of memory. They are also places where different expectations and interests are negotiated. Public spaces are arenas of social life and interaction, and an irreplaceable characteristic of the European city.

In the context of both a growing and increasingly diversified city and a neoliberal urban development model, to what extent can the development processes that manifest in public space still be steered? There are stark differences in the reception of public space, its qualities and accessibility (or lack of), which lead to conflicts between different actors about the conditions of its use.

The diversity of the actors involved (civil society, private companies, the authorities) calls for a range of diverse (and perhaps diverging) approaches. Also, in times of austerity, city administrations need to react to the needs of a changing urban society. Investors are often blind to the important social function of public space and fail to recognise the different demands that residents and visitors to the city have. Architects and planners often focus on the physical environment and design, often to the detriment of the social dimension of public space. The analysis of the fragmented and difficult to define needs and practices of a heterogeneous urban society and ensuring the inclusion of marginalised groups, who are often excluded from consumer-oriented public spaces is also a challenge. The growing complexity in the network of actors with a claim to public space also calls for an interdisciplinary.

Course leader


Suzanne Hall (London School of Economics, Department of Sociology)

Joseph Heathcott (The New School New York, School for Public Engagement and Parsons School of Design)

Sabine Knierbein (University of Technology Vienna, Interdisc

Target group

We invite masters and PhD students from disciplines such as geography, sociology, anthropology, history, architecture, landscape architecture, and media & arts, who are interested in the topic of public space focusing on the production and consumption perspective within this research field. Participants will gain a comprehensive and multifaceted understanding of public spaces in transition and the actors involved in transitional processes.

Prerequisites: Advanced master studies or early PhD studies; preparatory work (reading and questions)

Course aim

The situation described poses complex challenges concerning public space to city administrations, urban researchers and to citizens themselves. This is the starting point for the main questions framing the Vienna Summer School in Urban Studies 2016:

How can the complexities of public space be understood?

How can complex processes and different actors’ approaches be contextualised? We attempt to unravel the complex processes which shape and describe public space. Furthermore, we consider different actors’ approaches to public space and their rationales for producing public spaces.

How can this complexity be managed? We will collate inventive methods and approaches being used to analyse the complexities of public spaces. Also, we emphasise the need to translate the findings into an accessible format. We are convinced that we have the capacity to contribute to the popularisation of public space research and improve citizen access to public space through knowledge.

Fee info

EUR 290: Participation fee including reader and reception
EUR 18: Students' union fee including insurance