Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Conviviality in Public Squares: How Affordances and Individual Factors Shape Optional Activities

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Abstract:  Conviviality can briefly be defined as togetherness among strangers despite their differences. While most of the research on conviviality focuses on (inter-)cultural differences, this article argues that considering other kinds of differences (e.g., socio-economic status, gender, age, stage of the life course, etc.) may increase our understanding of conviviality. In addition, to help us measure the convivial use of public space, the article looks at participation in “optional activities” (e.g., enjoying the sun, playing), which contribute to a convivial atmosphere by encouraging people to be co-present, thus offering the potential for “thicker sociability.” Based on fieldwork consisting of behavioural mapping (n = 1,448) and an intercept survey (n = 1,474), this study explores key factors that increase the likelihood of people using three small public squares in Zurich, Switzerland, in a convivial way. A logistic regression model based on survey data shows that, even when controlling for individual factors, the squares and their affordances contribute substantially to convivial use, e.g., by providing ample seating. The model furthermore suggests that gender, people’s relationship to the neighbourhood, their occupation, and the time of day, are more significant factors in shaping convivial use of the squares than the cultural background, socio-economic status, age, or having children.

Keywords:  affordances; conviviality; diversity; neighbourhood; public familiarity; public space; public square


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© Hannah Widmer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.