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Public Space Observatory Research Centre

We bring together local, national, and international researchers, practitioners and policymakers engaged with the provision, design, use and management of public space.


Our primary aims are to build new partnerships and collaborations, share resources, promote knowledge exchange, empower local communities, advance cutting-edge knowledge regarding the provision, design, use and management of public space, and inform related theories, practices and policies.


Public space plays a key role in the New Urban Agenda. There is a growing global recognition that public space is a significant aspect of the quality of urban life and is a key component of sustainable urban development.

However, with globalisation, new technological advances, and increasing social diversity, public space is taking new forms, meanings and roles, which are creating new needs and demands, and changing the ways public life is experienced and negotiated.

This changing and complex context brings new challenges for public space researchers, designers, and policymakers, calling for more research and practice to explore the new potentials of public space and to develop more socio-cultural sensitive and research-based practices and policies in relation to the provision, design, use and management of public space.


Project nameFunderInvestigator(s)
London’s public spaces acting as social infrastructure and their role in supporting social cohesion (2023-2025)Project partnership with the GLA (2023-25)

Dr Patricia Lopes Simoes Aelbrecht

Professor Gary Bridge

Co-Producing Place NarrativesUKRI Harmonised Impact Acceleration Account (2023-24)

Dr Nastaran Peimani

Dr Hesam Kamalipour

Yaseen Rehman

Public Life in Changing Urban SpacesOn-campus Internships Scheme (2022-23)

Dr Hesam Kamalipour

Dr Nastaran Peimani

Kimberly Yong

Srivrinda Ladha

Invisible /Visible Urbanities: Framing Public Space in a Global ContextGEOPL Community Fund (2022-23)

Dr Hesam Kamalipour

Public Space Justice, Social Cohesion and Intercultural DialogueLTA Summer Placements: On-Campus Internship Scheme (2022-23)

Dr Patricia Lopes Simoes Aelbrecht

Jessica Richmond

Placemaking Toolkit for Wales: Improving the public realm in our towns and cities‘Innovation for All’, HEFCW (2021-23)

Dr Patricia Lopes Simoes Aelbrecht

Dr Francesca Sartorio

Dr Wesley Aelbrecht

Michael Corr

Dr Richard Gale

Jessica Richmond

Sanjeev Kumar

Sam Rule

Urban Design and Spaces of EncounterCities Research Centre  Research Seed Funding, RMIT exchange grant and ERCIAA funding (2018-23)

Dr Patricia Lopes Simoes Aelbrecht

Dr Richard Gale

Professor Gary Bridge

Dr Quentin Stevens

Urban Life and Public Space DesignOn-campus Internships Scheme (2021-22)

Dr Hesam Kamalipour

Dr Nastaran Peimani

Naina Manglik

My/Your Cardiff Public Space CampaignLTA Summer Placements: On-Campus Internship Scheme (2021-22)

Dr Patricia Lopes Simoes Aelbrecht

Dr Wesley Aelbrecht

Negotiating Livelihoods and Rights in Contested Urban SpaceHEFCW Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) 2020

Dr Hesam Kamalipour

Dr Nastaran Peimani

Dr Debdulal Saha

European Public Space Design Programs with Social Cohesion and Intercultural Dialogue in MindCUROP 2017 and 2018

Cities Research Centre Seed Funding 2017

RMIT Exchange Grant 2018

Dr Patricia Lopes Simoes Aelbrecht

Dr Richard Gale

Professor Gary Bridge

Dr Quentin Stevens

Dr Tuna Tasan-Kok

Professor Tom Nielsen



‘Why Public Space Matters’

Date: Wednesday 21 February 2024
Time: Midday to 13:00 (EST)/17:00 to 18:00 (GMT Local Time)

Speaker: Professor Setha low, Professor of Environmental Psychology, Geography, Anthropology, and Women’s Studies, CUNY, New York.

Location: Zoom


Why Public Space Matters examines how public space contributes to individual and societal flourishing.  Based on thirty-five years of ethnographic fieldwork on plazas, walkways, parks, markets, and beaches in the United States, Costa Rica, Argentina, India, Kenya, and France, it presents a new understanding of the role of social contact, public culture, and affective atmosphere in the creation of places essential to everyday urban life. This multimethod inquiry emphasizes the importance of public space to social justice and democratic practices sustained through people’s experience of representation, recognition of difference, inclusion, and care, as well as opportunities for contestation and resistance.

Cases studies demonstrate how public space provides a context for socialization of children and improves physical and mental well-being by encouraging walking and sports as well as access to natural landscapes. Sidewalks, parks, and plazas offer business opportunities through public markets and informal selling, and locations for festivals and celebrations that promote a sense of belonging and place attachment as well as transmit cultural practices.  Parks, urban gardens, and waterways construct sustainable greenways for water retention and wildlife and improve ecosystem services.

During disasters, public spaces become locations of social solidarity and support.  In New York City, public spaces expanded to accommodate almost all needs and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Public space benefits including social justice, health and well-being, resilience, creativity, social capital, cultural identity, and ecological sustainability are only some of the many ways that public space improves human and non-human lives and the environment. This book aims to realign urban priorities by highlighting the importance of public space for socially just cities and encouraging local activism with an ethnographic methods toolkit (TESS) for undertaking community research to address public space problems.


Professor Setha Low is Professor of Environmental Psychology, Geography, Anthropology, and Women’s Studies, and Director of the Public Space Research Group at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She has been awarded a Getty Fellowship, a NEH fellowship, a Fulbright Senior Fellowship, a Future of Places Fellowship and a Guggenheim for her ethnographic research on public space in Latin America and the United States.

Her most recent books are Spatializing Culture: The Ethnography of Space and Place (2017), Anthropology and the City(2019), Spaces of Security (with M. Maguire) (2019), and Why Public Space Matters (2023). She lectures internationally on public space, social justice and diversity, and partners with the UN Habitat Global Public Space Programme in promoting public space as part of the New Urban Agenda.

Past events

International guest lecture by Dr Redento B. Recio titled ‘(Post)pandemic urbanisms in Asia: State measures, grassroots responses, and implications for urban recovery’

Location: Room 1.75, Glamorgan Building (South), School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University

Date: Wednesday, 15 November 2023

Summary: Globally, about 1.6 billion informal workers have been impacted by mobility restrictions and other measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This seminar interrogates the pandemic impacts on informal workers in five Asian megacities: Dhaka (Bangladesh), Hyderabad (India), Karachi (Pakistan), Jakarta (Jakarta), and Manila (Philippines). It explains some key research findings on state-led COVID-19 measures, unpacking their gaps and lessons learned in addressing the needs of informal workers. The presentation also sheds light on grassroots solidarity practices that have cushioned the devastating effects of the crisis. It identifies the implications of such state interventions, recovery strategies, and citizen-led responses for (post)pandemic planning, urban governance, and scholarly theorising on Asian cities in an age of recovery.

This event is jointly organised by the Public Space Observatory Research Centre and the Informality Research Observatory at Cardiff University.

International guest lecture by Dr Elek Pafka titled ‘Tools for Urbanities: from static densities to dynamic intensities’

Location: Glamorgan Building Council Chamber, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University

Date: Monday 16 October 2023

Summary: The toolkits we use to shape urban environments range from metrics and mappings to diagrams and theories. These include a broad range of density measures and concepts, that are often poorly understood and misused. This seminar critiques the lack of progress in advancing understandings of specific density concepts in relation to desired social and environmental outcomes. It then sketches out an urban density research agenda commensurate with the global challenges ahead.

This event is jointly hosted by the Urbanism Research and Scholarship Group (WSA) and the Public Space Observatory Research Centre at Cardiff University.

Invisible/Visible Urbanities (An urban photography exhibition)

Location: The foyer and central corridor of the Glamorgan Building, Cardiff University

Date: March 2023 – April 2023

The exhibition presents a visual exploration of how places and public spaces are being made, unmade, and remade in a global context. It includes a curated collection of black and white photographs taken by Dr Hesam Kamalipour as part of his storytelling urban photography project, exploring forms of urbanity across cities in the global North and South.

The exhibition is supported by the GEOPL Community Fund 2022-23.

Framing Public Space in a Global Context (A discussion and engagement event)

Location: Committee Rooms 1 and 2 of the Glamorgan Building, Cardiff University

Date: 25 April 2023

The Invisible/Visible Urbanities exhibition will conclude with a panel discussion and engagement event scheduled to take place 4pm-5:30pm on Tuesday 25 April 2023 in Committee Rooms 1 and 2 of the Glamorgan Building.

Tickets for this event are free but must be booked in advance. The event is supported by the GEOPL Community Fund 2022-23.

My/your Cardiff Public Space Campaign (Public Uni Event organised by Cardiff University and Swansea University)

Location: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Date: 28 February 2020

Patricia Aelbrecht, Hesam Kamalipour and Nastaran Peimani gave a talk about My/Your Cardiff Public Space Campaign. My/Your Cardiff Public Space Campaign aims to raise public awareness about the value of well-designed, managed and used public spaces.

It promises to have long-lasting impact in Cardiff's public space design, development and management practices and policies. It is also set to change the physical landscape and culture of Cardiff’s public space and many other British cities in the coming years.

International guest lecture by Dr Debdulal Saha titled ‘Legislating street vending: challenges and alternative development’

Location: School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University

Date: 20 February 2020

Street vendors are considered as one of the most marginalised, poor and vulnerable groups of workers in the urban informal economy. Their activity is broadly characterised by easy entry, strong social network, the dominance of informal credit market and extensive rent-seeking.

With the passing of the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014, the activity would be regulated, protected and brought under the folds of legality. With the legality, the puzzle is whether the activity will become a part of the formal economy or will vendors continue sustaining in the extra-legal frame?

Drawing from a longitudinal study in Mumbai, the talk examined the structural changes that the street market has undergone, mainly from demand-driven to supply-led.

International guest lecture by Dr Debdulal Saha titled ‘Public space, politics and survival strategies: Street vendors in urban India’.

Location: Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University

Date: 20 February 2020

The central problem and struggle of vendor’s precarious livelihood are around utilisation of public space. Drawing from primary data collected in Mumbai, it discusses how despite the absence of proper legal and institutional frameworks, vendors subsist by arranging adhoc alternatives, creating informal institutions and negotiating with formal and informal actors in the urban economy.

A vendor exercises two kinds of bargaining with the space – economic and social. Individualism with rationality is practiced while economic bargaining to negotiate over rates of interest on credit and the rates of bribery. Social bargaining is exercised through collectivism to build social relations with actors such as customers, fellow vendors, and moneylenders.

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