Urban Public Space Governance and Its Implications for Qualities of Place

Thumbnail Image
File version
Primary Supervisor

Bosman, Caryl

Coiacetto, Eddo

Other Supervisors

Sipe, Neil

Fard, Tooran Alizadeh

File type(s)

Urban public spaces are the loci of complex interactions among varied sectors of the society, containing stakeholders within the general public, the private sector, and state institutions. They are utilised for a wide range of activities where the diversity and liveliness, yet also the complexities, of urban life are demonstrated. The nature, use, and production of today’s urban public spaces have changed. Twentyfirst-century urban spaces are intensely used and the rights to the spaces are more contested compared to those of their counterparts in the previous century. In addition, a number of functional, economic, social, political, and managerial factors, challenges, and changes have transformed urban public spaces: population growth, the rise of neoliberalism in urban centres, under-management of public spaces, and political unrest, among others. These changes led to the private sector’s widespread engagement in the production and management of public spaces, once an exclusive / expected responsibility of governments. The private sector’s engagement in urban public space provision and management has divided urban scholars. Mainstream literature labels this intervention as privatisation of public spaces that has undermined the essentials of public spaces: the publicness, authenticity, and social diversity. Others argue that private sector engagement in public space provision is expanding the range of place options to the growing urban population and can act as an enabler. In the wake of enough empirical investigation into the effects of changes in public space production on the qualities of public spaces, the conundrum has continued. This thesis extends the conceptualisation of public space governance (PSG) to shed light on the implications of public space production and management for the experience of place. It develops and applies a public space governance framework (PSGF) to empirically investigate two public spaces in the Australian city of Brisbane - the Queen Street Mall (QSM) and South Bank Parklands (SBP). Both case study areas have notable engagement of the private sector in their governance, although through varied arrangements. The PSGF is underpinned by four major components: 1) governance structure; 2) actors and stakeholders; 3) governing tools; and 4) governing tasks. There is a twofold evaluative component attached to this framework: substantive and procedural evaluations. The procedural evaluation takes into account the characteristics of good governance arrangements, whereas the substantive one looks into urban design qualities including publicness and sociability of the place. The substantive evaluation in this thesis has been conducted through users’ perspectives via developing an index for measuring experiential qualities (EQs) of comfort, diversity and vitality, inclusiveness, and image and likeability. This thesis employs mixed methods research (MMR) to empirically collect data. Twelve semi-structured interviews with stakeholders including managers, planners, and policy makers, and 286 intercept surveys of users were conducted as the principal methods of data collection in this research. Document analysis and expert observation were additionally employed with the aim of data triangulation. The findings showed that EQs were more affected by the urban political economy of the case study areas rather than merely by the private sector’s involvement. Nuances of the distribution of rights and responsibilities, public participation in decision making, and strategic directions and the visions of the governance matter significantly. Reflected in the governance arrangements of the case study areas, these factors were influential in how management regimes and policies respond to the needs and expectations of the users. The private sector engagement in public space provision does not impact the experiential qualities in the same way. In terms of the EQ of comfort, in QSM, as place with a strong commercial image, users expressed their needs for more comfortability in the shape of more seating, more drinking fountains, and more vegetation and shade—essentials for a pleasant pause in a public place. Yet, the governance in QSM was not adequately responding to these needs, leading to the conclusion that QSM was as comfortable for users as a good commercial thoroughfare was, where people were encouraged to move around, window-shop, and purchase things to meet their needs even if it was simply quenching their thirst. In SBP, the policies and strategies of governance encouraged spending long hours in the precinct and accordingly seating, vegetation, and amenities for long stays were provided. In terms of inclusiveness, in a public space like QSM, even with its dominant public agency, Brisbane City Council (BCC) in governance, people were more likely to feel controlled and watched because of the high level of economic and political interests at stake. Besides, the findings acknowledged that collective images and cultural means that are formed, maintained, and promoted by institutionalised governance play a crucial role in user exclusion through symbolising what types of activities, users, and behaviours are deemed acceptable. BBC and Brisbane Marketing promoted QSM as a shopping mecca for citizens and tourists, and South Bank Corporation envisaged SBP as a relaxing urban park with high-end restaurants. These promotional images, beside extensive branding and commerciality, could make lower socioeconomic groups feel excluded. The findings revealed that diversity in QSM and to some extent in SBP was carefully designed and controlled through soft regulations and policies. This resulted in lesser playfulness of the environment and more formality. This research makes a significant theoretical contribution by bridging the gap between processes of shaping and managing public spaces—the governance— and urban design qualities expected from good public spaces. Moreover, the quality measurements substantially build on users’ perspectives to fill a gap in public space evaluation studies which are preoccupied by expert-centric methods. This research highlights policy areas in need of improvement in regard to governing in urban public spaces. Further research might explore differences in behaviour of varied public space governance typologies, specifically in relation to important challenges facing today’s urban environments such as climate change, (fear of) terrorism, concerns about the epidemic of a sedentary lifestyle, and / or sustainability, and in different political economies.

Journal Title
Conference Title
Book Title
Thesis Type

Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

Degree Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Environment and Sc

Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement

The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

Item Access Status
Access the data
Related item(s)

Urban public spaces

Public space governance

South Bank Parklands

Queen Street Mall

Managing public spaces

Persistent link to this record