PUBLIC SPACE - Introduction

1. Introduction
1.1. Socio-technical system
1.2. (Un)sustainabilities
1.3. Societal needs
1.4. Sustainable criteria

1.   Introduction

The island of Texel has the ambition to be self-supporting in the field of energy in 2020 (Texelse Courant, 2013). Several initiatives are already implemented to achieve this transition, in the field of public space as well as the other sub-systems. For example, concerning public space there will be a sustainable streetlight plan implemented to decrease the amount of energy used for public lightning and increase the safety of the users (Waddenfonds, 2013). However, the goal of this course is not equal to the ambition of being self-supporting by 2020. This research focuses on achieving a sustainable transition on Texel and this should be achieved by designing the public space of Texel as a socio-technical system (Geels, 2004).


Texel consists out of several small villages. The term 'public space' is often used in relation to spaces in large cities. In the case of Texel, the term 'public space' is related to small villages and the surrounding landscape. The North Sea and Wadden Sea are not included in the scope public space, which consist of all public spaces on Texel that are accessible on foot. What is peculiar about Texel is that a lot of tourists visit the island during summertime. Therefore the public space is both used by the inhabitants of Texel and the tourists. Currently the public space is mainly adapted to the tourists, as most of the Texelaars earn their money from them. Generally does the public space not contribute to a sustainable Texel. Many spaces are adapted to the well-being of tourists and because of that, the quality of the public space became worse.

1.1.Socio-technical system

Many municipalities, countries etc. aim to optimize their systems for efficiency and accomplishing carbon-neutrality. However, in order to produce a sustainable urban environment it is necessary to generate a change of citizens’ minds. What is more, environmentally friendly technologies and strategies need to be supported by the integration of cultural, social, educational and environmental policies that create the ethical and intellectual knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours of citizens. Geels (2004) describes this resistance and proposes the socio-technical system as a solution to the answer of the transition towards sustainability. Figure 1 describes that if a change needs to be accomplished, the current socio-technical regime is resistant to this change. However, if the socio-technical regime has some tensions ("windows of opportunity"), it could be possible that a new socio-technical system fills those gaps and replaces the old regime, together with other changes in the society. The replacement of the system will influence the 'landscape,' which in this case is desirable to result in a sustainable transition of Texel.

geels 2004(1).jpg

Figure 1: A dynamic multi-level perspective on system innovations (Geels, 2004)

The current socio-technical system of the public space of Texel is discussed in Paragraph 2.1.


The public space of Texel can be categorized in various ways. First, public space can be divided in public space and semi-public space. An example of semi-public space is terrain of a bungalow park, which is owned by the bungalow park owner but accessible for the tourists. Both categories are taken into account, because both types of public space influence the sustainability of Texel.

                  Second, a difference can be made between the public space within the villages and the public space outside the villages. The focus of this research is on the public space within the villages, as this is transformed more compared to the public space outside the villages.


Traditionally the public space has three core functions, namely: meeting place, market place and traffic place (Gehl, 2003). The last few centuries this balance has somewhat shifted towards public space as a traffic place. The public space can be analysed from a 3P (People, Planet, Profit) perspective in order to understand what a sustainable public space is.


Table 1: Public space analysed from a 3P perspective




Public safety

Air quality

Construction costs

Attractive (both for commercial activities and nature activities)


Maintenance costs

Attractive (both for inhabitants and tourists)

Waste reduction/recycling

Transport infrastructure


Native species

Attractive for tourists


Energy neutral (renewable energy)

Local commerce


Land use (spatial planning)



An example of a solution that is currently performed in practice is public lightning. This solution increases the safety during the evening and night, is energy neutral because of low energy use in combination with solar panels and has less running costs because of the low energy use.


It appears that the aspects mentioned in Table 1 are not very poor but neither they are perfect. A combination of several aspects seems to be a possible solution for a future socio-technical system. These aspects will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

1.3.Societal needs

Two groups can be distinguished when discussing the societal needs: tourists and inhabitants. Both groups make use of the same public space but have slightly different priorities concerning the aspects mentioned in Table 1. However, the sub-system public space has to fulfil the needs of both groups.

                  Tourists would prefer attractive public spaces where many activities (e.g. leisure, shopping) are located. Besides, many tourists come to Texel to visit the beautiful nature of the island. Despite of the fact that only the public space within the villages are considered in this research, the beauty of the nature of Texel should not be ignored in the public space of the villages. In fact, the surrounding nature of the villages should be emphasized in order to embed the village in the nature of Texel. This solution could be the answer for many needs like attractive place to stay, public safety, green environment, waste reduction, etc.

                  The inhabitants of Texel have the ambition to become energy neutral in 2020. However, their income depends for a large part on the expenses of the tourists. Therefore, the transition towards a sustainable Texel should not be at the expense of the tourists. So, what the tourists want, is what the Texelaars want. Besides, they prefer a good transport infrastructure, they are proud of the nature of Texel and they are quite involved in the topic of land use. As mentioned in paragraph 1.2 one of the three main functions of public space is meet each other. As stated in the policy vision for 2020 (Gemeente Texel, 2009), Texelaars are closely related to each other and to the island. The meeting places should therefore reflect the identity of Texel. Also because of the scale of Texel, there is still a kind of social control, which is strongly related to public safety.

1.4.Sustainable criteria

According to Huang Baorong, Ouyang Zhiyun, Zheng Hua and others (2008) in their scientific article Construction of an eco-island: A case study of Chongming Island, China; it was stated that Eco-island is a sustainable concept characterized by integrating ecosystem structure and function, by a powerful ecological security defence system, by a sustainable use of natural resources, by a prosperous and stable eco-economy, by creating comfortable human habitats and by producing an extensive ecological civilization.

                  Regarding Public Space sub-system within “Texel Sustainable Island” project, it is important to consider these six characteristics of eco-island concept, especially the creation comfortable human habits, the integration ecosystem structures and functions and the development of prosperous and stable eco-economy as a consequence. This is closely related to the 3P aspects derived from Table 1. Moreover, Huang (2008) established that a good natural environment is the basis for comfortable human habitats, and it requires suitable physical and climate conditions, high environmental quality, secure food supply, high quality of natural ecosystem services, low risk of natural disasters, and pleasant landscape. What is more, it was stated that a good social and economic environments are extremely essential because they are related with the concept of people’s welfare. (Huang, Ouyang, Zheng, Zhang, & Wang, 2008)

                  Furthermore, in order to generate a sustainable public space it is important to consider some aspects such as a well-planned city layout, public transportation, promoting voluntary simplicity in lifestyle choices, decreasing material consumption, and increasing awareness of environmental and sustainability issues. Thus, generating a sustainable urban environment within the island.

                  The aim is to create a smart island that supports sustainable strategies in order to generate people’s welfare. Regarding all these aspects it is proposed to integrate a Circular Flow Land Use Management strategy.

                  Circular flow land use management concept represents a different philosophy of land use, based on “avoid – recycle – compensate”. This strategy allows the use of green areas under specific conditions, but primarily and systematically seeks to use the potential of all existing locations. (Ferber & Preuss, 2006)

  • Avoid:
    The conversion of now unbuilt open space or agricultural land into new developments is to be avoided.
  • Recycle:
    Areas with uses that were once active and now exhibit no viable use should be recycled by either introducing new uses or through renaturation.
  • Compensate:
    Compensation should be required when construction must take place on previously unbuilt land. This can be in the form of renaturation projects or through de-sealing measures in built areas, where soil sealing is no longer necessary. (IETU, 2010)


Figure 2: Avoid - recycle - compensate (Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR), 2006)

The avoid-recycle-compensate (ARC) concept focuses especially on land use in order to generate a sustainable 'urban' environment. Hence, the sustainable criteria for public space are closely related to land use. The sustainable criteria for the public space within the villages of Texel are listed and explained below.

  • Texel's identity:
    Texelaars are closely related to the island. If the public spaces are linked to the identity of Texel, it is likely that the Texelaars will support this. The specific identity of each village should be determined together with its inhabitants. When inhabitants are involved in their neighbourhood, they are willing to do more effort to increase or maintain the liveability of that specific place. This includes for example the maintenance of public space. In conclusion, the public space is more durable and the transition towards the new public space is sooner accepted. Besides, the maintenance costs can be lower because of the involvement and cooperation of the inhabitants.
  • Pollution:
    There are many kinds of pollution in the public space. One of the main polluters are the emissions emitted by vehicles and buildings. This decreases the air quality despite of the fact that the air quality in the villages of Texel is way better than many other Dutch cities. The tourists come to Texel to e.g. enjoy the nature. Therefore it is important that this pollution is avoided. Besides the reduction of emissions, waste and sound pollution should also be avoided as much as possible. Sound pollution originates from various sources, e.g. cars, agricultural vehicles, bars & restaurants, noisy tourists etc. Not all sources can be influenced equally. Waste pollution results mainly from the tourists and their related activities.
  • Attractiveness:
    One of the main criteria for public space is that it should be attractive, otherwise it would not be used. In combination with the fact that tourists are appreciating the nature of Texel and the Texelaars that are closely related to the island, the villages should contain more natural (from Texel) elements in the public space. The attractiveness of the public space should also increase the profit element of 3P.
  • Safety:
    The well-being and safety of people is an important factor for the choice to visit or stay at a certain public space or not. Therefore the success of a public space depends also on safety factors. Examples of these factors are darkness, visibility (blind spots), etc.




Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR). (2006). Perspektive Flächenkreislaufwirtschaft special publications series for the ExWoSt research field Fläche im Kreis. Theoretische Grundlagen und Planspielkonzeption .

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Gehl, J. (2003, 07 25). Winning Back the Public Spaces. Barcelona.

Gemeente Texel. (2009). Texel op koers - Structuurvisie 2020. Texel.

Huang, B., Ouyang, Z., Zheng, H., Zhang, H., & Wang, X. (2008). Construction of an eco-island: A case study of Chongming Island China. Ocean & Coastal Management , 51 (8-9), 575-588.

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UNESCO. (2014). UNESCO statement: ECOSOC Integration Segment on Sustainable Urbanization. Retrieved 11 21, 2014 from United Nations:

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Pinal Desai , Tatiana Armijos Moya