The urban public realm is critical to creating and maintaining vital and inclusive cities. There has been a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the urban public realm in Australian urban policy, with increasing amounts of energy and resources devoted to its improvement. However, while there is apparent agreement on the significance of public space there is less clarity over what constitutes 'good' public space and the degree to which it can be deliberately created. Beyond this, urban public spaces and institutions are being transformed by urban redevelopment trends, culture-based and creative city planning strategies, shifts in management and ownership arrangements, and by the impact of concerns regarding public safety and security. This is a timely moment at which to evaluate contemporary challenges to the urban public realm and to focus on coherent policy recognition and response.