Annalisa Giampino
Marco Picone
Filippo Schilleci


As Doreen Massey (2005) pointed out, space matters. Does public space still matter today? Since the early seventies, several studies have explored public space as an emerging, and in many ways innovative, universe of actors, spatiality and socio-territorial practices which invaded the public spheres of our cities (Habermas, 1979; Rossi, 2008). However, ‘public space’ may have a wide variety of interpretations which relate to a semantic overlapping between a sensitive material sphere -The Space- and an intangible metaphorical sphere -The Public- (Bianchini, 1990; Crosta, 2000; Hajer and Reijndorp, 2002; Harvey, 2006; Low and Smith, 2006; Rossi, 2008). As Crosta (2000) reveals, a new dichotomy stems from those inseparable elements of public space: material space, conceived as the product of the relationship between territory and its society, and public, conceived as the result of the relationship between a society and its country. This means that material space and public sphere become the cognitive domains and functions within which public space takes shape. From a disciplinary point of view, this duality, as Smith and Low (2006) emphasised, produced two different scientific literatures: first a series of studies, developed in the philosophical and political context, which investigates an a-spatial public sphere, while a second trend almost exclusively relates to the spatial dimension, including disciplines such as geography, urban planning and anthropology. Therefore, together with the constitutive uncertainty of the planning discipline, which has been thoroughly discussed in urban literature (Faludi, 1986; 1987), an additional uncertainty must be taken into account, proceeding from the polysemy of the term, and from the co-existence of different approaches.

From a critical reflection on the concept of public space as it is now used by urban scholars and city managers, this paper suggests that public space should not be considered a ‘product’ (defined through quantitative and objective parameters), but rather as a ‘construct’ (defined through its qualitative and relational dimension) and a ‘process’ (thus referring to the performative and deconstructional theories inspired by Jacques Derrida). Public space will therefore be related to governance effects, considering the social interactions between institutional and non-institutional actors and practices (Ferraro, 1990; Crosta, 2000). Much has been written on the role of public space in contemporary societies, and many scholars agree that today public space is a controversial and arguably critical concept. It may actually seem that even the basic idea of what is or should be ‘public’ is experiencing a deep and troublesome reconsideration, as new forms of privatisation slowly but firmly erode its fundaments. Within this conceptual framework, this paper aims to critically analyse the idea of public space which exists today, with particular attention to the idea of public space as a shopping mall. Characteristics of the Italian way of using shopping malls, and their social and spatial consequences, are investigated and analysed through a case study in Palermo.


How to Cite
Giampino, A., Picone, M. and Schilleci, F. (2017) “The shopping mall as an emergent public space in Palermo”, The Journal of Public Space, 2(2), pp. 85–98. doi: 10.5204/jps.v2i2.95.
Author Biographies

Annalisa Giampino, University of Palermo

Annalisa Giampino is an urban scholar and architect. She holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning (Co-Tutorship thesis Program between University of Palermo and Universidad Politécnica de Valencia). She has been Post-Doctoral Researcher at University of Palermo, Department of Architecture. As post doc, has been engaged in a research project on insurgent planning to right to housing in Southern European countries, with a particular attention to the engagement strategies of vulnerable groups in decision making

Marco Picone, University of Palermo

Marco Picone is Associate Professor of Urban Geography in the Department of Architecture at the University of Palermo. Currently, he holds courses in urban geography and social geography. His main research interests revolve around two topics: urban and social geography, and popular geopolitics. He has published
articles and essays on Palermo and its neighborhoods and on the geopolitical representation of new cinematic media.

Filippo Schilleci, University of Palermo

Filippo Schilleci is an architect and landscape planner, graduated in the School of Architecture of Palermo. He holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and is currently Full Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Palermo, where he teaches Analysis of City and Region Laboratory at the School of Planning and Planning at the School of Architecture.
He is coordinator of the PhD Programme in Architecture, Arts and Planning of the University of Palermo and member of the International experts committee of the doctorate programme on “Engineering of Materials, Structures and Terrain: Sustainable Construction” of the University of Alicante (Spain).
He is also deeply involved in the activities of the University: as Erasmus Coordinator with European University and as delegate for International Mobility for Polytechnic School of the University of Palermo.
His principal research interests revolve around the relationship between free spaces in urban areas and around the themes of the ecological-environmental continuity.
He develops his researches in collaboration with italian and foreigners university, as Escuela Politecnica de Madrid, Universidad de Alicante and Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena.
He has published articles and essays on the identity of the territory and the ecological planning on national and international texts and magazines.


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