Privatisation of public space

Essay, 2008

21 Pages, Grade: 1.5




1. Privatisation of public space
1.1. History and recent trends
1.2. Discussion

2. Case studies
2.1. Case study 1
2.2. Case study 2
2.3. Discussion

3. Conclusion


List of illustrations


In recent years the privatisation of public space has become the subject of much discussion and debate among critics of today’s urban development. In the United Kingdom and throughout the world, the appearance of our cities is being transformed by public space privatisation. In other parts of Europe this topic is becoming a very contemporary and controversial issue as well. As one of the biggest cities in Germany, Hamburg shows processes of privatisation of public space. Its current HafenCity project reveals one of the biggest regeneration projects managed from and financed by private and public sources.

What do we mean by the privatisation process and what are its benefits and disadvantages toward the quality of urban living?

Privatisation describes the process of change within the management and ownership of open spaces. It is perceived as a part of Post-modernism and the post-modern city, where the “city provides the context for the social, economic and cultural changes brought about by the globalised new economy” (Minton, A. (2006) p. 5). Corporate governance in shopping malls, business parks, entertainment complexes and business improvement districts can be seen as part of this progression. The trend towards community or joint private ownership of assets such as community centres and parks is an element of the progressive privatisation of public spaces which reduces the pool of openly shared public spaces in towns and cities. Membership passes and fees can be used to regulate who uses the facility and how the spaces are utilised.

Traditionally we differentiate public spaces in terms of the rules of access, the source and nature of control over entry and rules of use. Therefore a place is public when anyone can enter it and no restrictions, other than Common Law and public safety to behaviour or use of the place is given. Public space is commonly understood as a state owned open space free of regulations, which this essay will discuss.

In different societies, times and places “public space” has been interpreted very differently. Today a public space in a more private society will not be understood without considering the private spaces as a product of modern capitalist society (Low, S. & Smith, N. (2006) p. 4.).

A Private space is demarcated and protected by state-regulated rules of private property use. This kind of space is not easily accessible to the public – an owner or group of owners is essential. Access and use is regulated and limited to a certain number of people.

A semi-private space is partly private but is more accessible to people other than the owners or users.

This document will not analyse the different roles public spaces have but will mention the main aspects. Public spaces carry a very important cultural role as well as social and political functions for the community, society and civilisation. Civic and development roles, in addition to commercial uses, are relevant in regards to public spaces and their importance. Public spaces can be seen as a visionary vehicle for change through their design, technology and use.

1. Privatisation of public space

1.1. History and recent trends

Privately owned spaces given to the public or a certain group of the public society is not a recent phenomenon. In the UK and other parts of Europe a process of privatisation can be recognized throughout history.

In the 18th century private estates created squares and other community centres to enhance the value of the surrounding properties and to increase the quality of life within the estate. Most of these places were gated and a limited number of people had access and permission to use the facility. Good examples can be found in Bloomsbury and Barnsbury. (See Figure 1)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Lonsdale Square, Barnsbury, Islington, London, Scale 1:2500.[1]

Some of these squares were given to the public in the 19th or 20th century but some still belong to the developer and have restricted access and use.

In the time Margaret Thatcher was British Prime Minister (1979-1990), dramatic changes in land ownership and company management took place through a wide policy of privatisation to establish urban development corporations. “First, it seized control over urban development from local government and was undemocratic. Second, it resulted in the widespread privatisation of public space. (…) Such privatisation of public space erodes urbanity and social cohesion.” (McGuigan, J. (1996) p. 104)

Canary Wharf and the Docklands regeneration project is one of such major areas redeveloped during the Thatcher era. Many private estates and public spaces are also located in these areas.

Over the last decades a process of increasing private spaces in public areas has been identified. Most spaces are owned by an entity, be it private organisations, private individuals or financial institutions. Government owned space is often thought of as `public`. As quoted in the A. Minton´s “The privatisation of public space” (p. 9) and in reference to Monbiot, G. (22.2.95) A Land Reform Manifesto (The Guardian), only 4% of land in England and Wales is known as `commons` within The Land Registry.

British monarchs always owned large areas of the country which could be clarified as private land as they were subject to their rules and regulations.

Large parts of London’s centre are owned by a small group of wealthy landlords who control vast areas of the city. With this process taking place the capital will become a place of gated squares and private streets, where public access is restricted and controlled. One of the most bizarre examples is More London in Southwark. The area of around 52,600 m² is home to the Greater London Authority but certainly under private ownership and management. (Refer to 2.1)

Privatisation in the public realm appears in a lot of very different cases and variations. A short description of some samples will be given in the following. One very obvious case of privatisation is known as Malling and reshapes the structure of our cities. Shopping malls like Brent Cross or the future Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush (see Figure 2) are just two examples in London.


[1] Source: Islington National Survey Data.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Privatisation of public space
University of Westminster
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Privatisierung, Oeffentlicher Raum, Privatisation, Open Space
Quote paper
Susanne Grolle (Author), 2008, Privatisation of public space, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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