Freedom and control: A state of balance in public space

Tianjiao Zhao, Kin Wai Michael Siu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to determine how to achieve a balance between freedom and control in public space. It analyses the relationship between freedom and control to identify phenomena and offer users and policymakers instructions for achieving that balance. Public space, including privately owned public space, is important to urban living. People have both the right to use public space and the responsibility to protect it. Both freedom and control should exist in public space in an appropriate combination. It is impossible and inappropriate for us to ask for absolute freedom or endure unreasonable control.Design/methodology/approach – A case study of Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) reveals typical freedom/control relationships. Quantitative descriptions are given based on field observations.Findings – Freedom and control are primary factors affecting the quality of urban life and management of city space. They depend on and conflict with each other. The balance between freedom and control is a balance between diverse spaces. The “freedom space” belonging to both citizens and authorities determines whether freedom and control are balanced. Ethics and strategies constitute control. Only when each authority and user obtains a proper freedom space can freedom and control achieve balance in public space.Research limitations/implications – Freedom and control differ across cities because they are both affected by culture, history and tradition. As each city has its own characteristics, the freedom and control in each open space are distinctive. Balancing freedom and control requires an understanding of a city’s background and the era. While this paper does not attempt to achieve this understanding, further studies could devote more attention to dimensions of time and location.Practical implications – The findings provide recommendations for users, policymakers and construction and management companies that will allow the management of harmonious and high-quality open spaces.Social implications – Freedom and control are two main factors affecting quality of life. The balance between freedom and control may bring a harmony and stable society environment. It would benefit both the authority and the people a lot.Originality/value – This study provides a systematic analysis of freedom and control in public space and makes a valuable contribution to quality urban space policy, design and management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-623
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Control
  • Environmental management
  • Ethics
  • Freedom
  • Policy
  • Public space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction


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