Shared Space defines a set of integrated ideas about people, movement and public space. It is an idea that seems particularly relevant to its time. The role of cities, towns and villages is changing rapidly. We no longer require urban centres for obtaining goods and services, or for information and exchange. Out-of-town stores, the internet and other developments mean that town centres are no longer an essential part of life.
Instead, urban and rural places fulfil deeper human needs as means to interact, to form social bonds, and to express civic values and beliefs. This change has profound implications for public space. It means it is no longer sufficient to merely rely on the functional capacity of roads and streets as a means to transport goods and people. Streets and public spaces have assumed a critical economic and social role in attracting people and investment. This change requires us to rethink the way in which we design, manage and maintain the public realm, and how to ensure wider control and responsibility for the local community.
The support from the Interreg IIIB North Sea programme has provided opportunities to test
the principles of Shared Space in a wide range of urban and rural contexts, and to generate transnational exchange of knowledge between five countries and seven municipalities. It has also facilitated understanding of Shared Space across the rest of Europe and much of the rest of the world through the unusually high levels of publicity generated. As a result, Shared Space is now an established set of principles in many countries.
The project has prompted a wide range of additional areas for research and investigation. Issues of traffic speeds, and the means to control them, lie at the heart of improving safety, enhancing urban quality, and encouraging greater participation in, and access to, the public realm. This is particularly important for children, for elderly people, and for those with physical or visual disabilities. Above all, the Shared Space programme has encouraged interest in new processes and structures for public engagement and for the relationship between different areas of professional expertise. The complexities of human interaction defy simple rules and standardised solutions. Shared Space challenges a number of long-standing assumptions that have defined the treatment of streets for many years. Through the development of the pilot projects, observations of the impact of new approaches can be made, and new lessons learnt for future generations. The European Shared Space project has added significantly to the available body of theory, knowledge and experience of politicians, professionals and the public engaged with improving the built environment and promoting civility.