Socioeconomic Diversity in Public Spaces

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Virginia Tech

While academics and policy-makers seek to address historic segregation and its harmful impacts on communities, many such efforts have been unsuccessful. Therefore, this original research examines the role of public parks as potential sites of social and economic integration. These spaces serve as third places, or social spaces where community members regularly visit, similar to their regular visitation of their home and workplaces. In the City of Roanoke, three visited public parks serve as local third places where individuals of different social and economic backgrounds visit for various activities. However, visitors typically only interact with others similar to themselves. The exception appears to be when the third place provides a source of triangulation based in common interests. This form of triangulation is useful in establishing commonality among visitors, thus bridging existing gaps between communities. Said triangulation is successful when the third place provides a physically and socially comfortable environment affected by the space's design, location, and management. These three factors must combine to maintain a careful balance between welcoming visitors of diverse backgrounds, but also establishing a sense of comfort among visitors. Public spaces which achieve this balance realize their potential by becoming equitable third places.

Third Place, Public Parks, Urban Design, Social Interaction, Urban Planning