SEISMIC conference on new concepts of public space

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The conference involved discussions on several aspects of public space and was complemented by site visits around Brussels.

The SEISMIC (societal engagement in science, mutual learning in cities) project organised a two day conference on new concepts of public space on 24-25 November. This was a chance to discuss everything, from whether Europe needs common standards for public space to whether public ownership is the best guarantee of public access.

Participants were from the 10 countries participating in SEISMIC, and included urban planners, researchers, public participation specialists, urban gardeners, and social enterprise managers.

Day one kicked off with a keynote speech from Pietro Garau, an architect, planner and researcher at the University of Rome. Curator of the 2015 Public Space Biennale in Rome, Garau presided over the creation of the Charter of Public Space, which presents public space as a universal human right. 

Pietro Garau noted that while more and more public goods are being sold off to private interests, including transport services, schools, healthcare, public housing, public space has largely been exempted from this trend. He said: "We still think of public space as belonging to all."

The conference delved into several aspects of public space: how cities can make public use of abandoned or underused lots and buildings; the role of collaborative mapping in public space policy; and how streets can be designed and regulated to create a new balance of public purposes.

The event also included four site visits around Brussels. Delegates travelled to: the recently pedestrianised section of Boulevard Anspach; the large private Tour & Taxis development on a disused railway station in the canal district; a vacant and virtually wild area near the EU quarter being used for temporary projects such as community gardening; and a former abattoir building converted into a market and a community venue, in an area of new migrants. 

A common lesson from the site visits was the importance of public participation in the planning of public places. This was particularly well demonstrated by the communications issues experienced during the ambitious pedestrianisation project, as well as the challenges of communications between the Tour & Taxis developer and the neighbouring Molenbeek district residents. 

For more about SEISMIC and the conference, please visit