Valuation of quality of urban life through recreational public spaces

Zamler, Daiana (1,2,3) (2018). 'Valuation of quality of urban life through Recreational Public Spaces' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Global urban growth is imminent. In Latin America, urbanization rate increased from 40% in 1950 to 75% in 2005. Currently, more than 80% of the population lives in cities. In consequence, ecological, economic and social problems arise in the region. These issues derive from congestion, lack of planning, absence or low quality of infrastructure and increase in vulnerable population. All this results in degradation of the quality of life and increases segregation and social fragmentation (Fernández, 2000; Alva, Narvaéz, Martínez, 2017). For these reasons, cities have been tending to reformulate their configuration in order to become sustainable urbanizations and improve well-being standards. However, it seems that there is a difference between the quality of the projects and the investments made in the city centers, and those of in the periphery. If so, the highest well-being rates would be in urban centers (Gómez and Velázquez, 2014).

For urbanism, among another disciplines, quality of life is related to the well-being of the individuals and it is conceived as a function of social mobility. In this context, it should be noted that economic opportunities, political freedom, social powers, and suitable conditions for good health and basic education, have a direct influence on people’s achievements throughout their lives. In addition, fair social opportunities are essential for individuals to forge their own destiny and help each other (Sen, 2000). For all the above, it’s key to analyze people’s quality of life in urban environments.

In this context, public space is understood as an indicator of quality of life, as well a potential tool to qualify peripheries and the civic value (Borja and Muxí, 2000:8-9). As Gehl (2017) explains, there is where public life develops, which has direct implications for its inhabitants. Moreover, high quality of public space can contribute to environment preservation, promote health standards, conceive safer cities and increase civic engagement. At the same time, public space creates opportunities for economic development and mobility, generates social capital and connects people with local communities. 

On the other hand, Recreational Public Spaces represent amusement opportunities for families in the city, especially for those that live in small housing units. Good design of this space encourages recreation. In addition, this is the place of creation and reproduction of social relationships, where community life and exchange between citizens takes place (Lefebvre, 1983; Rogers, 2000).

Such exchange leads to coexistence, a by-product of diversity and a key element of urbanity; and to identity, which generates a sense of belonging and allows the creation of ties with the city spaces (Jacobs, 1973). Citizens’ sense of belonging and identification with public spaces encourage free well-being, justice and development, pillars on which human development and capabilities are based (Robeyns, 2016).

In Latin America, there are deep contrasts between different zones and sectors of the population. Therefore, strategic proposals to redefine peripheries and marginalized areas are of the utmost importance. The incorporation, renovation and improvement of recreational public spaces in Rosario, Argentina was one of the central concepts of its urban transformation. However, this city is characterized by being a mosaic of heterogeneous and fragmented situations, with a continuous superposition of uses and infrastructure that usually present problems among each other. Those socio-spatial inequalities in the city are revealed as a common factor in contemporary Latin-American urbanizations. In this sense, the study of urban recreational spaces is considered of great importance since they are supposed to promote a better quality of life, favoring accessibility and equal opportunities for the whole society. The present thesis seeks to investigate three main aspects of recreational public spaces in Rosario city. In the first place, if there really is a quantitative or qualitative difference between the spaces in the center and those in the periphery in terms of conception, design and maintenance. Secondly, evaluate the incidence of these places in the objective (physical and social) and subjective (satisfaction levels) quality of life. Finally, analyze if the quality of recreational public spaces can be a potential tool to re-qualify marginalized or degraded urban areas and promote sustainability and quality of life in them.

In order to answer the above questions, evaluations will be performed within a value system, measured in terms of indicators. This methodology intends to capture the actual condition of particular components that influence or determine quality of life, providing accurate and geo-referenced information, which serves as a source of qualified knowledge. As a result, new projects and appropriate policies can be formulated to improve urban environments.

Cities need new planning criteria and methodologies that maintain “small” scales and help reduce fragmentation, therefore improving the quality of life (Alva, Narvaéz, Martínez, 2017). Finally, it is interesting to conclude that the democratic quality of the city, the life that takes place in it and its conservation, is determined in the public space. Its quality will determinate the quality of the city of tomorrow.

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