Please join CSU as we welcome our guest speaker Setha Low and moderator Lance J. Brown on Thursday October 5, 2023, from 12-1pm ET for our next Green Books Event of 2023! The event will be held on Zoom.

Public spaces — where people from all walks of life play, work, meet, talk, read, think, debate, and protest — are vital to a healthy civic life. And, as the eminent scholar of public space Setha Low argues in Why Public Space Matters, even fleeting moments of visibility and encounter in these spaces tend to foster a broader worldview and our willingness to accept difference. Such experiences also enhance flexible thinking, problem solving, creativity, and inclusiveness. There are many such spaces, but they all enhance social life. Sidewalks and plazas offer business opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurs who cannot afford store space. Public parks have long provided major cultural attractions, from plays to concerts, at little or no cost to the public. Central squares have a storied tradition as arenas for demonstrations and political protests. Parks and waterways create sustainable greenways, and during disasters, all manner of public spaces become centers for food delivery and shelter. To illustrate their value, Low draws from decades of research in public spaces across the Americas, from New York to Costa Rica.

Yet we are losing public spaces to accelerated urban development and the belief that public spaces are expendable. Just as important is the broad-scale and ongoing privatization of public space by corporate actors. Low explores why public spaces matter today, how they are at risk, and what we can do about protecting these essential places that support our everyday lives. Finally, she shows how we can work to promote public space protection and expansion at both the grassroots and global levels. Throughout, she focuses on real public spaces and the people who use them in cities and regions across the Americas, from New Jersey to Costa Rica. A powerful, defining statement on a foundational contributor to healthy civic life, Low’s book not only details what we are at risk of losing, but shows us how we can not only stop the losses, but work to expand the number of spaces available to the public.

Event Recording

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Setha Low received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She started her career as an assistant and associate professor of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, City and Regional Planning, and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Low is currently distinguished 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 is widely published, with more than a hundred articles and chapters, and lectures internationally.


Lance J. Brown, FAIA, DPACSA, NOMA is a founding board member and Immediate Past President of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU). He taught at Princeton and is the former Chair and Director of the Spitzer School of Architecture, CCNY. Educated at the Cooper Union he holds two master’s degrees from the GSD at Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA). He is ACSA Distinguished Professor for Life and received the coveted AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. He has edited and authored numerous publications and consults, teaches, and lectures nationally and internationally.

Learning objectives

  • There are few if any public resources (goods) that provide the range of pay offs and benefits of public space (investment in public space). Whether you are concerned about the economy and jobs; a sustainable ecosystem; physical and environmental health; mental and social well-being; justice, equity, and belonging; or the polarization of civil society, public space) delivers positive outcomes based empirical evidence.
  • You will learn how successful and socially just public spaces are made through contact, public culture, and affective atmosphere. Ethnographic case studies from around the world demonstrate how planning, design, events, representation, and community involvement encourage intergenerational and interracial social interaction, a tolerant public culture, and a vibrant atmosphere.
  • You will be exposed to a social science method for studying public spaces to improve them and to identify the reasons that people are not using them or avoiding being with others. The toolkit for the ethnographic study of public space (TESS) is presented in a detailed case study with instructions on how to do your own research to improve, save, or revitalize the public spaces that matter to your community.
  • You will learn how a Social Justice and Public Space Framework that can be used to assess whether a park, plaza, sidewalk, or street is social just in terms of providing access, welcome, and belonging for all. The framework considers six dimensions of justice: distributional, procedural, interactional, and informational justice plus recognition and care that can be evaluated and then transformed to produce greater social justice for people and the environment.

Co-Sponsoring Organizations for Green Books 2023

Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, UN-Habitat, AIA New York, AIANY Planning & Design, the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY, Habitat Professionals Forum for Sustainable Cities, Perkins-Eastman, Creative Exchange Lab, Columbia University Center for Buildings, Infrastructure & Public Space (CBIPS) and Global Urban Development (GUD).

To ensure you receive the email notification, please make sure your email address is up-to-date on Eventbrite. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We are looking forward to seeing you at the Green Books Event!

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