The planning and urban design of liveable public open spaces in Oman : case study of Muscat
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Public open space has performed a considerable role in society since the first human settlements. Since the 1960s the understanding of liveable public open space has grown dramatically as exhibiting good quality and being well-used by the public. There is evidence of the social, economic and environmental benefits of public open spaces in any city. Planning and urban design practice are the mechanisms behind providing liveable public open space which entices and encourages the public to choose to spend more of their spare time in them. This thesis is concerned with liveability in contemporary public open spaces in Middle Eastern cities, where historically public open spaces were developed based on Islamic religion and Sharī‘ah, which provided norms for the production of the built environment and social engagement with this. As a focus for the exploration of contemporary public open space in Middle Eastern cities, this study examines the design of squares and plazas in particular. Squares and plazas were introduced by colonisation and reinforced by modernity, being later emphasised by globalisation. Nevertheless, squares and plazas in the Middle East have not been as successful as the traditional local open spaces, nor as the Western versions. This research has attempted to evaluate the liveability in public open spaces in Muscat through detailed case studies of two squares and two plazas in three ways, including evaluating: the physical quality, users’ perception and professional perception. In order to achieve this, a mixed methods strategy was designed based on the theoretical perspective of social constructionism. These methods included: desk-top study of documents; three built environment assessment tools, applied by professionals; behavioural mapping and observation; a survey of open space users; and semi-structured interviews with professional involved in the provision of public open space and community representatives in Oman. The empirical work showed that though public open spaces are viewed as beautification elements of the city structure, there are major weaknesses in meeting users’ requirements, engaging users and in considering local climate in those spaces. Although the planning and urban design system in Oman has been adopted from the West, it is not established adequately in different plan sequences and strategies to govern the provision process and control the quality of the spaces; in addition, there is lack of clarity and coordination in institutional responsibilities over the provision and management of public open space. It is concluded that providing more liveable public open space in Oman would require improvements to the planning and urban design systems, as well as learning from traditional practice in the production and management of open space in the Middle East.