Doreen Massey on Urban Space


Doreen Barbara Massey was an influencer on urban social space. Her books have gained acclaim in many parts of the world, particularly in the West. She was a professor of Geography at Open University. She wanted people to re-think their associations and connections with physical city spaces. She received many awards from around the globe for her contributions to theory and philosophy relating to social space including the books that she’s written which were received positively by other urban theorists. She was an advocate for social space and claimed that social space doesn’t have boundaries or single identities. People who use the space are the most important factors in shaping what the social space feels and looks like around the city.

There are many ways people can interpret our environmental surroundings and Massey wanted people to think about their relation to their social spaces. When we use the space in our cities, the ambience and the atmosphere of the space plays a major part in deciding whether it creates a ‘sense of place’ where people form attachments to the space and return to the space because it has special significance and meanings to their everyday living.  Massey wrote many books on how people can think about their social space and why this is important particularly in city planning and geography related fields. She also wanted to make an impact to everyone, regardless of whether they had a background in city planning, to think about their everyday associations with their city spaces.

Related: Jan Gehl’s Promotion of Urban Public Life

Massey’s book – For Space

In ‘For Space’, Massey has written about the various ways in which people can relate to their city spaces. According to her, time and action are the key aspects that define the character of the space. Over time, the space changes depending on who uses the space and the ways in which it is used. This is true for spaces around the world. Although she focuses on England, this would be relevant in other countries as well. As migration increases and as people in cities become more multicultural or connected with one another, the ways in which the space is used will change over time.

The particular actions and associations people form with these spaces are also important. For instance, if Connaught Place in Delhi is frequently visited, the space holds particular meanings and the facilities offered in Connaught Place, such as metro station, shops and cafes, will matter to the people visiting the space on a regular basis. As cities develop and change, their usage and how people perceive them will also change with time. As Massey stated in an interview: “so, time is the dimension of change, and of dynamism, and of the life we live, and all the rest of it; and space became the dimension that wasn’t all of that.” This connection between space and time hasn’t been written by a lot of theorists in urban planning but it has been implicitly indicated by previous theorists such as Foucault which was useful in Massey’s research into space and time connections.

Related: Jane Jacob’s vision for cities

This implies that, from traveling to a certain destination to living in our houses, we are using certain spaces in the city on a regular basis, many times without our knowledge of how the space is affecting us. People who inhibit these city spaces are the ones who create and change the space over time depending on their various ideas and design behind the space. Informal settlements such as India do not have concretely planned spaces such as in the West where every detail is planned, but even in India, the spaces have changed over time and they make a difference in the ways in which people use them. There has been further research by urban theorists that have focussed particularly on informal settlements and the ways in which urban planning is affecting the citizens on a daily basis.

Massey’s main theory was that there is a relation between time which is virtual, imagined and without material significance, and space which is very much a matter of materiality. To understand this time-space connection reading her books such as For Space would be valuable. 


Therefore, Doreen Massey contributed a lot to the field of geography during her time as a lecturer. She based her theories on previous urban planning theorists such as Foucault and Habermas who have also looked into this philosophy of social space. Our connections with space and each other changes with time and this creates a flow in the society in cities around the world. This can be found in our everyday interactions with the society and the functions of the city. Massey’s books have been very influential both academically and to the general public, to understand concepts of urban public space. As the world is becoming more urbanised, Massey’s theories and books will be relevant even in the future.

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