Public spaces had been central to Cape Town’s colonial planning and spatial order, but became marginalised in the twentieth century under modernist planning and apartheid policy. As apartheid came towards its close, architects and planners began to champion public space as a way of addressing the city’s deficiencies. Books, articles, and policy documents were written celebrating public space as a humanist device and vehicle for democracy. The City of Cape Town’s emerging Urban Design Branch instituted a major public space program: the Dignified Places Programme. This paper traces the history of public space as a terrain through which political aspirations, whether of domination or contestation, have been asserted in Cape Town. The paper will argue that at the end of apartheid, a public space turn occurred which reflected the specificities of post-apartheid democracy, in both its aspirations and limitations.