Public Space Research

privately owned public spaces

Publik Secrets activities are informed by an ongoing research project into the multi-faceted nature of public space in Vancouver. As a respite from the hustle and bustle of the automobile-dominated streetscape, a space for moments of reflection, or a place to connect with others, public spaces are the primary vestiges of an urban commons. With the emergence of public-private partnerships as a widespread form of urban development, privately-owned public spaces have come to signify an increasingly dominant model of public space provision. This has far-reaching implications for the possibilities of a participatory, democratic city. Using art as tool for intervention into these privately-owned public space, we ask what forms of social activities are possible in these spaces and what constitutes a stray from both imagined and explicit norms?

In 2016 we organized a soundwalk that traversed various privately-owned public spaces in downtown Vancouver with Vancouver New Music. Privately-owned public spaces are widespread in our contemporary urban form, exemplified by squares, plazas, waterfronts, and enlarged sidewalks included in a building’s envelope. These spaces complicate the neat binary between public and private, combining elements of private ownership, securitization, and rules and restrictions, with publicly accessible amenities such as shelter, seating, and open space. Using group walking as a way to assert the right to these common spaces, drawing attention to their spatial, social, and sonic dynamics.


Vancouver Residents Feel Unwelcome as Privately-Owned Public Spaces Spread