Facilitating social mixing in public spaces
Elissa G Hartanto, Gian Jian Xiang, Toh Sing Yee and Samuel Mok
This research was conducted as part of the Research Studio, a core module of the Masters of Science in Urban Science, Policy and Planning, at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Public spaces are shared spaces where people from all walks of life encounter one another as they go about their daily activities. As a space of encounter, they hold considerable potential as a platform for community building and strengthening social resilience. But the challenge for public spaces to realise that potential is twofold. First, for public spaces to be truly “shared” by the community, it should be utilised by diverse groups within the community, instead of being the preserve of a particular group. Second, there needs to be repeated encounters among the users to engender opportunities for meaningful interactions. According to Gehl Institute’s Public Life Diversity Toolkit, interactions can be classified into five broad levels – no contact, passive contact, chance contact, familiar stranger and friends. Meaningful interactions hence refer to ones that go beyond the superficial, generally considered familiar stranger and higher.
Therefore, in considering the two challenges, we embarked on this project to discover how public spaces can facilitate social mixing among individuals of different backgrounds and socioeconomic status, and thus strengthen social resilience. In essence, our research question was, “What factors of a public space contribute to social mixing?”
From the list of about 20 potential public spaces the team visited, two sites were shortlisted as the final choices for this study. The two main criteria for selection are that the sites must:
- straddle between public and private housing types so that users of different backgrounds and socioeconomic status might use them, and
- be used by residents on a day-to-day basis.
Hence, the two selected sites are the open space between Empress Market and Food Centre and the adjoining HDB Block 8 (hereby known simply as Empress Market and Food Centre) and Buangkok Sports Park. Empress Market and Food Centre is a commercial node, where the activities are commercial-related, whereas Buangkok Sports Park is a community fitness area, which hosts hobby or sports-driven activities.