People’s use of shopping centres as public space – the role of shopping centres for social sustainability

People’s use of shopping centres as public space – the role of shopping centres for social sustainability


Shopping centres are found to emerge as a new type of public space. However, there is still limited knowledge about how people use shopping centres as public space and the experienced qualities they find there.



In the latter part of the 20th century, shopping centres have emerged as a new type of public space. From being attractive only as places to shop, shopping centres are also used as a public space where people socialise, exercise, engage in random encounters or simply pass time with no obvious purpose. Shopping centres have altered from being places for retail to function as nodes for social interaction. Opportunity for social interactions is a basic human need, and social networks and social support are important determinants of health and well-being.

Even though shopping centres frequently are used for other purposes than commercial ones, consumption is the main element and shopping centres are owned and controlled by private interests. Public squares, parks or high streets are perceived as more authentic, democratic and more truly public than shopping centres. There is an impression that shopping centres and other privately owned spaces, are replacing these traditional forms of public space. This development aligns with trends of decreased social contact in public space and an increased use of surveillance and restrictions of access. These trends raise concerns not only for groups kept excluded, vulnerable and marginalised; they also raise concerns for implications for publicness and decreasing social sustainability. 

However, these new types of public spaces that are not truly public are nevertheless becoming very popular social spaces, and there is a need for understanding of how people use and experience shopping centres.


The main aim of this project is to investigate people’s use and experiences of shopping centres as public space, and to explore how shopping centres can play a role for social sustainability through facilitating social interactions, social coherence and social capital. 

The main aim will be investigated through the following  sub-aims:

  • Investigate how shopping centres are used as public space
  • Examine who uses shopping centres as public space
  • Explore people's perceived and experienced qualities of shopping centres as public space
More about the project

This is a PhD-project by Gry Rustad Pettersen at the Department of Public Health Science. Professor Camilla Ihlebæk is main supervisor (NMBU). Postdoctoral fellow Emma C. A. Nordbø (NMBU) and associate professor Jo Ese (University College in Østfold) are co-supervisors.