A public space is a social space that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads (including the pavement), public squares, parks and beaches are typically considered public space. Government buildings which are open to the public, such as public libraries are public space. Although not considered public space, privately owned buildings or property visible from sidewalks and public thoroughfares may affect the public visual landscape, for example, by outdoor advertising.
Public space has also become something of a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geography, visual art, cultural studies, social studies and urban design. The term 'public space' is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as 'gathering place', which is an element of the larger concept of social space.
One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry. Non-government-owned malls are examples of 'private space' with the appearance of being 'public space'.
In Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland, all nature areas are considered public space, due to a law, the allemansrätten (the right to common passage).
In the United States the right of the people to engage in speech and assembly in public places may not be unreasonably restricted by the federal or state government. The government cannot usually limit one's speech beyond what is reasonable in a public space, which is considered to be a public forum (that is, screaming epithets at passers-by can be stopped; proselytizing one's religion probably cannot). In a private—that is, non-public—forum, the government can control one's speech to a much greater degree; for instance, protesting one's objection to medicare reform will not be tolerated in the gallery of the United States Senate. This is not to say that the government can control what you say in your own home or to others; it can only control government property in this way. The concept of a public forum is not limited to physical space or public property, for example, a newspaper might be considered a public forum, but see Forum (legal) as the term has a specific meaning in United States law.