What is public space? Has it always been public? What is private space? Who has the right to use it? How has it been contested?

This website is the project of Dr Katrina Navickas, exploring the history of public space in England from c.1700 to today.

stevenage town centre

Contemporary urban regeneration and social protest movements have raised urgent questions over the ownership, policing and uses of sites where people meet, play and protest. But often such debates lack full consideration of how contested sites have been shaped by much longer histories of planning, legislation and local resistance.

This project explores:

  • the ways in which people have used and contested public spaces in their locales;
  • how changing patterns of landownership and governance have shaped everyday access to public space and created conflicts over its use;
  • issues of enclosure, privatisation, policing and planning of public space.
Kennington Common
Kennington Park extension, February 2018

From enclosure and improvement acts in the 18th century, through planned settlements in the 19th century, to slum clearance, new towns and Business Improvement Districts, and private-public initiatives in the 20th and 21st centuries, public space has been contested and privatised. I will ‘deep map’ particularly resonant sites in England, including north Manchester terraces and squares used for demonstrations, Pennine moors, public spaces in Croydon, Stevenage and other new towns.

I am always seeking the micro or ‘hidden’ histories of locales. If there’s a particular public space, be it a large open site like a square or a field, or a more hidden site like a back alley, that means something to you or you know of its history, I’d love to hear from you. I’m particularly interested in planning disputes and protests that have resonance to the present day.

the map

This is the groundmap, charting the histories of the sites I will be exploring over time, and also links to some of the campaigns about public space/commons:


thoughts in progress

‘For the People’ day of talks, Manchester, 9 November 2019

The Modernist Society are holding a super day of talks on the democratisation of design in mid 20th century Britain. Litter and street furniture including bins are an integral part of public space. I am speaking about the anti-litter campaign in Britain, from the Anti Litter Leagues of the 1920s to the Keep Britain Tidy …

history of public space

Public and private space in England – a brief history and bibliography.




google ngram of terms in their corpus of British English books:






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