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Mapping pedestrian spaces

Martin Grander and Peter Parker

This article introduces a counter-mapping strategy to visualize Malmö from a pedestrian perspective. It highlights the uneven distribution and fragmentation of current pedestrian spaces and aim to support a constructive approach to networks of slow roads. We are particularly concerned with processes to improve the mapping of pedestrian spaces and how maps might support constructive dialogues.
Publicerad: juni 2023
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Pedestrian spaces

Urban public space is a topic of fascination. This is, ideally at least, where the rich diversity of the city is expressed. However, even mundane public space that may not immediately seem to provide variety or afford diverse interaction is of interest, as people relate to it in shaping a sense of place, and potentially an appreciation of that shared space. This article is concerned with pedestrian spaces in the city, which are loosely defined as spaces that are free from risks associated with traffic, publicly accessible, and allow for some exploration and interaction. The concept of pedestrian spaces is closely related to concepts of public space (Bodnar, 2015; Low, 2013; Qian, 2020) and we share concern for inclusion in this literature. The emphasis on pedestrian spaces, rather than public space, is intended to convey a certain open-endedness and exploration rather than a confined space of interaction. Thus, we are interested in paths and connections, interstitial spaces (Brighenti, 2013; Young, 2002) as well as more traditional public spaces like parks and squares. Furthermore, the concept of pedestrian space is intended to capture something connected to the act of walking, or slow mobility (Olwig, 2016), as an aspect of exploring, pausing, and reflecting. Slow mobility is understood to be key to the perception of landscape (Cresswell, 2018; Merriman et al., 2008) and therefore to the appreciation of shared urban landscapes. In this article, we map the distribution and connectivity of pedestrian space in Malmö as a means of providing critique but also to identify areas of potential improvement.

Exploring potentials and limitations of existing data

The approach to constructing maps is inspired by a (counter-)mapping perspective (Dalton & Stallmann, 2018) in that the mapping exercise is conducted in order to call into question the normal order of places (Zuljevic et al., 2022). Nonetheless, we begin mapping by combining publicly available GIS data. This is not only a matter of convenience, the approach allows us to explore what kinds of data are accessible and what kinds of data are missing. In a sense, we are exploring and critiquing existing categories of publicly available data. Our perspective on what is missing from this data is informed both by previous research (Zuljevic et al., 2022) and from extensive walks in the city. This allows us to point out missing data but also to identify specific areas that could serve to ground discussions on what is relevant to map. The main contribution of this work is therefore a foundation for further dialogues on what kinds of data should be collected and represented in city maps in order to more adequately capture pedestrian perspectives and the values of inclusive public space.

In this exploration we are concerned with several interrelated questions:

  1. How are pedestrian spaces distributed in the city and how does this relate to issues of segregation? This question is motivated simply by the idea that pedestrian spaces should be available in different parts of the city.
  2. Are pedestrian spaces connected or fragmented? This question derives from the need for unmarked, hybrid and interstitial spaces that provide grounds for exploration and appropriations.
  3. Based on our own walks; what kinds of data would be needed to provide better visualization of pedestrian spaces and facilitate further development of the pedestrian infrastructure

The study has taken the city of Malmö as a case. This is a matter of convenience in that we have been able to access the GIS data through cooperation with the municipality and that we have been able to easily explore areas on foot. Moreover, Malmö provides an interesting example in that the municipality is small but with significant disparities between different areas. These factors combine to accentuate the significance of inclusive public space.

Constructing maps

To visualize pedestrian spaces we started from a rough typology inspired by earlier work on slow roads (Zuljevic et al., 2022). Some space seems inherently to be directed at pedestrians and enhancing forms of social interaction. These include squares, pedestrian streets and parks. Then there are numerous areas that might be considered to have elements of pedestrian spaces such as green areas, allotment gardens, train stations and – in the Nordic context – cemeteries (Grabalov, 2018; Grabalov & Nordh, 2022). There are also certain areas that may be accessible by pedestrians like hospital areas, school grounds and housing estates, but also golf courses. We group these in a category called accessible specific-use areas. We have also chosen to include streets that have a maximum speed limit of 30km/h in an attempt to capture those streets that might afford a great deal of pedestrian interaction without necessarily being designated as such. Finally, railway lines turned out to be important to include in the map both because they create significant barriers but also leftover spaces, as abandoned railway lines could be used as walking paths. The different kinds of spaces are illustrated in figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Collage of different pedestrian spaces

In the resultant map, the elements of pedestrian space are represented as follows:

  • Pedestrian streets and squares (light orange)
  • Parks and green spaces (light green)
  • Accessible specific-use areas: Allotment gardens, cemeteries, golf course (dark green)
  • Roads with a maximum speed of 30km/h (pink)
  • Railway lines (dark orange)

To relate the location and characteristics of pedestrian spaces to the issue of segregation, we placed the map of pedestrian spaces on top of a background layer depicting socio-economic differences in terms of median income in different areas of the city. We have used the scale of DeSO (Demografiska statistikområden), which is a geographical unit developed by Statistics Sweden. DeSO areas are useful as their borders follow geographical barriers such as larger roads, rivers etc. and as they have roughly the same population (around 1,500 to 2,500 citizens per DeSO), which enables comparisons.

Malmö consists of 192 DeSO areas, which also could be aggregated to the larger regions such as city districts and city areas, which are administrative areas used by the city of Malmö.

In order to visualize segregation, we have used the median income in Malmö as a whole as a baseline for a segregation map and graduated the 192 DeSO-areas in relation to this. Cut-off points with respect to median income were colour-mapped using a scale from the lowest income to the highest income as follows:

  • Lowest income (equivalent to 55% of the median city income) as dark grey
  • Median income (equivalent to the city median income) as light grey
  • Highest income (equivalent to 196% of the city median income) as white

Thus, roughly speaking, the white areas on the map have four times the median income of the dark grey areas. The resultant map overlaying pedestrian spaces and socio-economic segregation is seen in figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Segregration and pedestrian spaces in Malmö

Distribution of different kinds of pedestrian spaces

In analysing the distribution of different kinds of pedestrian spaces it would have been possible to quantify the actual area of different kinds of space and explore statistical correlations with socio-economic categories. However, it is not obvious that the same qualities of pedestrian space always are directly related to aggregated areas even within the same type. Moreover, large parks and green areas may be adjacent to several DESO areas which raises questions about how the park or green area should be attributed. Rather than adding further assumptions to underpin a quantitative analysis, it seems more pertinent to assess the map in Figure 2 with a careful reading.

What the map in Figure 2 shows is that there is an uneven distribution of different kinds of pedestrian spaces in Malmö. Pedestrian streets and squares are concentrated in more affluent areas. Parks and green areas also show an uneven distribution. Almost all larger green spaces are in areas with higher socio-economic indicators, but there are exceptions of both affluent areas with little green space and underprivileged areas with ample green areas. The apparent correlation between socioeconomic standing and proximity to the seashore further underscores the relevance of an eco-justice perspective (Byrne & Wolch, 2009). Specific use spaces seem more frequent in less affluent areas. This is interesting but not obviously beneficial as it depends on how the space connects to other pedestrian areas. Our final category of streets with a maximum speed of 30km/h probably captures mostly zones near schools and which show a fairly even distribution.

Connectivity of pedestrian spaces

Figure 2 also shows that pedestrian spaces in Malmö are highly fragmented, that is, largely unconnected to one another. Pedestrian spaces are therefore contained and limited mostly encouraging other forms of transportation to get to and from them. In a sense, these spaces become themed as it requires a specific reason to go there. This contained aspect of pedestrian spaces also undermines a sense of exploration and appropriation. Most likely, people visiting will need to return to their mode of transport and start and endpoints are therefore defined. If we believe that pedestrian spaces are important because they provide for an intermixing of rest, reflection, mobility and interaction, then this closed nature of the space severely limits its qualities with respect to inclusion.

A further problem of fragmentation is that pedestrian spaces can be socio-economically marked and contribute to enclavisation. For instance, pedestrian streets are almost entirely located in the most affluent areas in Malmö. This seems to indicate that residential segregation is strengthened by a lack of interconnection between pedestrian spaces, undermining awareness of differences and possibilities of interaction. In an inclusive city, on the contrary, there would be an interconnected network of pedestrian spaces. We would here subscribe to Young’s argument that spatial group differentiation should be “fluid, without clear borders and with many overlapping, unmarked and hybrid places.”(Young, 2002, p. 197).

Exploring missing data

The map of pedestrian spaces (figure 2) becomes more interesting as we zoom in on specific locations and potential connections. One of the main purposes of making the map has been to promote dialogue on the potential development of the pedestrian network. One phase of our research has therefore been to identify potential connections between pedestrian spaces, and particularly connections that might help to bridge socio-economic divides. At times the explorations have been strongly guided by maps but our experience of walking different paths also provided unexpected experiences that exposed limitations in the data.

One surprising aspect that we found in walking through different areas is that fences are sometimes erected to block what otherwise might be natural paths. This has been the case around allotment gardens and with other kinds of activities in green spaces including camping sites and sports areas, but also residential areas, mainly ones with tenant-ownership. Of course, there may be reasons for fences, but consideration of different paths would often seem a simple measure to implement.

Figure 3. Fences blocking pedestrian access

The walks also made evident that there is significant potential for pedestrian spaces not captured in our maps. For instance, underused spaces became evident as a potential. With respect to property, there is a potential for different kinds of temporary use that might stimulate diverse interaction (Parker et al., 2019). There are also underused spaces that can be the basis of more long-term consideration. Foremost among the examples in our walks was an abandoned rail line that potentially connect several parts of the city with each other and the surrounding countryside.

Figure 4. An abandoned rail line

One further, and perhaps more important limitation of the data was the inability to adequately discern streets that have limited traffic and have great potential to be pedestrian zones with minor measures.  Such areas seem to be distributed throughout the city and are not adequately captured in our category of 30 km/h speed limit streets.

Figure 5. A mixed-use area that could also serve as a pedestrian space

The central point of argument here is that by identifying these areas, a better understanding of existing and potential pedestrian spaces can be created. It might, as in the example of the abandoned rail line, become obvious how different kinds of pedestrian spaces could interconnect. In this case, opening up new ways for poeple in different neighbourhoods to explore and appreciate the city.

Potentials, for developing a network of pedestrian spaces

In this article, we have mapped and explored the distribution of pedestrian spaces in Malmö. The intent has been to produce an alternate visualization of the city that highlights places conducive to exploration, interaction and play rather than properties, streets and commercial venues.

In conducting this work, we have sought to highlight how these spaces are distributed in the city and raise potentials for increasing connectivity. We have argued that a dispersed and connected network of pedestrian spaces is a kind of infrastructure that would enable people from different parts of the city to find and appropriate spaces but also to perceive the city as shared. There are sound reasons supported in abundant research that embodied interaction in public space is pivotal for creating awareness of difference. There is also good reason for linking walking with the perception and appreciation of a shared landscape. Attention to pedestrian spaces in terms of their distribution and fragmentation is therefore key to creating both an appreciated and inclusive city. Clearly though, even a developed network of pedestrian spaces is not enough to ensure inclusion, it is an infrastructure.

We have argued that our explorations in Malmö, using the map as a guide, have allowed us to identify missing data which, if made available, could greatly improve the visualisation of the pedestrian network. The overarching aim of the mapping exercise is constructive – to identify areas where pedestrian spaces could be improved and connected with each other. The data we are missing initially include the following: areas of limited traffic that afford pedestrian interaction, underused spaces and fences that obstruct connections between pedestrian spaces. It is possible that this data could be made available either by the municipality itself or generated through a broader participatory mapping process.  Perhaps an iterative process of attention to specific areas and dialogues on mapping could improve the general process. The key point is to provide a city map that takes better account of the different values of walking, not merely as transport, but also as pivotal to inclusion and a sense of sharing the city.


We would like to acknowledge support from the city of Malmö in making data available. We would also like to credit participants in walk-alongs for their significant part in the co-production of knowledge.


This research was funded by Formas Nationella forskningsprogram för Hållbart samhällsbyggande Nr. 2019-01923


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Martin Grander is an associate senior lecturer in Urban Studies at Malmö University and the Director of the interdisciplinary research environment Studies in Housing and Welfare. His research focuses on urban planning and housing provision from a perspective of equality and inequality, with particular attention on the role of housing in shaping present and future living conditions.

Department of Urban Studies, Malmö University

Peter Parker holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology. His research focuses on urban governance and sustainability. Research has concerned for instance how urban regeneration is legitimized, the viability of urban commons, inclusive public space, implications of temporary use and policy mobility.

Department of Urban Studies, Malmö University

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