Get out of my Space!

Urban space management is high on the agenda of cities. MORE partner Polis made it the theme of the Closing Plenary session of its 2018 Conference.

In her keynote speech, Helle Lis Søholt, CEO and co-founder of Gehl said: ‘We need to deliver and co-create lively and healthy public spaces. Technology and data are not the goals; they are only enablers.’ She added that the relationship with citizens is as essential to public space design. ‘We need to understand their behaviour and culture and should find ways to engage with them.’

Harriët Tiemens, Deputy Mayor of the City of Nijmegen, shared her experiences with giving space to walking and cycling and the development of a regional network of fast cycling routes. Tiemens mentioned political support, a structural budget and a long-term vision as key ingredients for successful active mode policies.

Pascal Smet, Minister for Mobility and Public Works of the Brussels Capital Region, gave an account of his efforts to change the car-oriented culture of Brussels in favour of walking and cycling. Smet stressed that rather than focusing on transport modes, cities should consider quality of urban life as the ultimate objective of mobility policy. He also underscored the importance of visuals in a society that increasingly focuses on images. ‘You should visualise the situation of today and the situation of tomorrow.’

Adrià Gomila, Director of Mobility Services at the City of Barcelona, shared his experiences with the re-allocation of space in the context of the superblocks project. Shared space and the prevention of through traffic are central concepts in this Barcelona project.

Marius Macku, Senior Associate Public Policy and Government Relations at Uber said: ‘Urban designers, decision makers and private companies should get around the table and discuss how they want to design cities that are made for people.’

The debate also touched upon the potential of prototyping public space. The panellists agreed that prototyping is an effective means of showing new ways of space allocation. It can also bring citizens and decision-makers closer to shared ideas about public space.

Dynamic space management remains an untapped potential, said Helle Lis Søholt. Until now, public space design does not accommodate differences between times of the day, weekdays and weekends, and seasons. ‘Technologies enable us to understand behaviour better, which allows for responsive designs.’

The Polis 2018 Conference took place on 22-23 November in Manchester, UK. More information is available at