A legal definition of public place: A place to which the general public has a right to resort; not necessarily a place devoted solely to the uses of the public, but a place . . . visited by many persons and usually accessible to the neighboring public. . . . Any place so situated that what passes there can be seen by any considerable number of persons, if they happen to look (Black 1968, 1394).
When private property is a public forum
Two publishers who sold game programs on the sidewalks next to a newly opened major league ballpark had been arrested several times for trespass. The sidewalks were leased to the ball club by the local government agency. The original planning documents showed these spaces were to intended be public spaces. But were they really?
We assembled evidence showing there were no useful physical, visual or symbolic indicators of privacy in these sidewalk areas. Spatial patterns and cues to pedestrians showed all entrances to the ballpark were connected to sidewalks extending from the original city street grid. The trial court and the Colorado Supreme Court each concluded all adjacent sidewalks were public space constituting a public forum.
The failure of America’s most expensive downtown park
Skyline Park in Denver was designed by a famous landscape architect and built in the early 1970s. But by the mid 1980s, shops and restaurants immediately facing the three sequential half-blocks it occupies skyline had closed down. The park had become a steeplechase for skateboards and bikes and a hangout for hobos.
Middle-class downtowners avoided the park and adjacent retail. Our analysis showed an internal configuration of mazes disconnected from the street/sidewalk grid as shown above. The configuration allowed it to be socially privatized by small groups and avoided by the majority of pedestrians in that area. Change was opposed by many designers but it was redesigned and rebuilt.