Since 1880s the Parks have been built according to the idea to escape from the urban life and create a place for leisure time (Cranz, 1982). In Europe the urban parks and gardens have gone through different eras and they were designed by assigning various functions such as symbol of power and expression of the perspective as well during the Renaissance. Also, parks represented the interaction between artificial and natural languages and atmospheres in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century. In the Modern Movement, the city-parks have been considered essential for the human wellbeing. Generally, people used to ‘select some portion of parks and spend time with friends, reading books, watching animals, listening to music, picnicking, playing and boating’ (Cranz 1982, pag. 10).
However, nowadays, the green spaces are providing new services such as the access to the wireless for leisure or working purposes. Accordingly, an innovative concept of parks and gardens might be adopted in the XXI Century. To this end, we observed Esplanadi Park, Helsinki, for 12 hours during the month of June focusing on what people do with the IT technologies and if they were working in the outdoor spaces.
Esplanadi Park covers a wide pedestrian walk from the Swedish Theatre to the Harbour’s open-air market, the so called ‘Kauppatori’. Also, it is nearby to the main commercial and public buildings of the city. Today, the park is really popular among the locals of Helsinki. The green grass, sculptures, several coffee shops, and benches create a unique atmosphere. At the same time, the City of Helsinki does provide 3 free Wi-Fi accesses to the visitors.
We observed that usually people have fun, meet friends, read newspapers or books, eat and drink, and walk and look around. However, we found people using laptop, smartphone and tablet for leisure purposes such as skyping, chatting, emailing and surfing the web (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 IT user in Esplanadi Park, Helsinki
A few of them were engaged in working activities such as emailing colleagues and talking with the clients (Fig. 2). We interviewed some of the teleworkers.
One of the respondents was emailing his colleagues by own smartphone and he said:
‘I am going to my clients’ premise that is close to Esplanadi. My meeting will be in 15 minutes. I am working here since there are bench seats and the place is really sunny’.
Another respondent was reading some office papers and he answered:
‘I am meeting my clients in 30 minutes and their office premise is nearby to Esplanadi. I am working here since I like watching people around.’
Fig. 2 People at work in Esplanadi Park, Helsinki
We discovered that teleworkers still represent a minority among the park users. However, most of the teleworkers observed were melding their work with their living out of the main office. Indeed, we discovered that they are not aware of the hours spent working in the park when waiting for some colleagues to have a lunch.
Also, we found out that street furniture is not suitable for people that use the IT devices, and in particular, for those one at the laptops (Fig.1). In fact, Esplanadi Park does not provide any tables with chairs.
For these reasons, the IT technologies cannot be considered only an incursion in the public spaces. Consequently, urban designers and urban planners should consider the Wi-Fi as street furniture in parks, gardens and other third places. Also, we might say, in a challenging way, that new uses of public spaces require additional equipment like tables, benches and chairs more suitable and ergonomic for the IT users (both engaged in leisure and working purposes).
However, the ways and reasons for why people appropriate public and semi-public spaces are changing rapidly. This phenomenon has to be further investigated considering not only the physical components of urban spaces, but also the new types of working, urban functions, and as well as local culture and climate settings that affect the people’s use of public spaces.