Public spaces in the urban are area that have free open access by the public to relax, enjoy and interact. It can be private or communal. It can also be a road, a beach or a green area. Public places are popular hangout places and are supposed to be vital components of a thriving city. They make a city more lovely and enjoyable by dwellers and visitors. Depending on the city set up the best public places tend to be kept green with trees, gardens and benches. People who use them can choose to sit on the benches or on the well-kept lawns. They are ideal for parties, meet-and-greet chit chats among friends but they also act as waiting places. They can also act as “parking” places for people. In a bustling city, one gets relief when they find a good public space where they can relax, read a book, chat with a friend or wait for someone. Gazetting of public spaces became fashionable in Europe and America in 1950s and have become a must-have for most cities because of the role they play in the general outlook of a city. The more public spaces a city has the better. It means that people have a wider choice of where to spend quality time with their loved ones.
A city with many public spaces tends to be more convivial and friendly compared to one that overly squeezed and bursting with activity. Studies have however shown that some people prefer cities that are compact with a lot of human activity such as New Delhi and Mumbai in India. It doesn’t matter whether the city has population density, all cities should have public spaces for those that cherish them but also to provide ”breathing space” to those who would love to have a less crowded area. Designing a public space also calls for unique skills. Not all public spaces are friendly and welcoming. There are spaces that are popular because of their unique designs. Cities with high temperature need public places that have trees and greenery to give them the cooling effect, otherwise if they are made of concrete, they may be very uncomfortably hot and thus not serve their purpose. Also, public spaces need to have adequate seats and not too many to cause crowding to create space within. Although bigger public spaces are more appealing, any city could have small size public spaces depending on the spaces available. There are very tiny public spaces in Europe that are equal in size with a medium sized swimming pool. These are normally located within residential neighborhoods that are heavily built.
Public places that are located near CBDs tend to be popular by their very nature of location and high populations. Some of them like the one in Central Amsterdam in Netherlands is most of the time packed to capacity because it is located right in the centre of the city. Tourists and shoppers like it because of proximity. Those in the suburbs of the city are normally not very congested especially on weekdays. They tend to attract people on weekends and special days. Trafalgar Square in London is another famous public space that has been jealously protected by the British government. In fact it has become a worldwide symbol of urban freedom with people from all walks of life flocking there every day. To people visiting London, Trafalgar square is a most see spot in this historical city.
Kampala has for a long time had three major public spaces. These are Constitutional Square, railway grounds on Jinja road and Centenary Park. The forth one with a fountain opposite Watoto Church on Kampala road is very tiny and was developed by KCCA in 2013. Although they are supposed to be public spaces, they have not functioned as such in a very long time. In fact all of them are highly restricted areas. Government is always discouraging their use by the public because of various reasons. People who tend to use them are regarded as loiterers and are viewed as idle and disorderly. Police is always at hand to arrest anyone who dares to use these places for resting. As a consequence, this has made the public places in Kampala remain alien and largely inaccessible by the public. It’s never too late for a city to start on a journey of creating public spaces. What is important is to identify vacant pieces of land and start gazetting them for this purpose. It is also important for the city to involve citizens in identifying such land and working with them to develop those public places. It is also encouraged for cities to start buying small pieces of land, if possible where public spaces can be developed. Another alternative is for the authorities to discuss with big city landlords to freely donate land on which public spaces can be established. The start may not be easy but as people begin appreciating the value of public spaces, some of them will give away their land while others will offer their skills to develop such areas in form of place making.