Participatory design practice, event (s) and the activation of public space

Graham Ross, Peter McCaughey

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Festivals and events make use of public space (s) as sites for people to gather in, or process through. In urban planning and design the activation and curation of flexible public spaces which enliven places has gained prominence. On one level, programming public space is eventified to make spaces more interesting and convivial. On the other, the process of participatory design is mediated through ‘events’ that seek to disrupt conventional planning techniques and attract participation from a broader cross section of the community. In this paper, we bring together thinking from urban design and critical event studies to explore two live public space design projects that draw on the event concept in both described forms. Our findings demonstrate that the event format loosens social and spatial relations, opening possibilities for new configurations of public space that would otherwise have been difficult to envisage and realise. Second, we contend that facilitating planning and design processes through the lens of events helps involve a wider set of public(s) to participate and can also make the resultant public space itself more attractive for diverse range of users and uses.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability
Early online date20 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 May 2023


  • public space
  • activation
  • events
  • participatory design
  • programming


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