This paper focuses on public spaces within the cities as an arena for a de-growth transition, addressing in this context the role of social capital – a term which most generally refers to social connectedness and individuals’ engagement in a community.
In most urban theory, as well as in policy and planning strategies, the implicit assumption is the transitory character of public spaces – they are the arena where the strangers meet, where consumers/tourists flow, where we confront people from different backgrounds, but seldom interact. This way of thinking hardly accounts for social capital, which is being built on the basis of regular interactions – it is how trust develops.
Why do we need to think about social capital in the context of urban public spaces? Is not freedom and anonymity the essence of urban life? Admittedly, social capital makes some claims on this freedom, and limits anonymity. Yet, without a strong local civic engagement there is a substantial danger that public spaces will be subordinated to the market logic, and have even more delimiting effects, discriminating large groups of inhabitants. In this context, it may be argued that social capital is one of the key aspects contributing to communal well-being and other non-material aspects of quality of life, which are crucial in the context of a de-growth society.
The paper concludes by proposing some strategies that could contribute to strengthening social capital in public spaces situated in urban densification areas.
This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Public spaces in a compact city: planning for social capital“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.