Effective public spaces are extremely difficult to accomplish, because their complexity is rarely understood. As William (Holly) Whyte said, “It’s hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”
PPS has identified 11 key elements in transforming public spaces into vibrant community places, whether they’re parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks or the myriad other outdoor and indoor spaces that have public uses in common. These elements are:
- THE COMMUNITY IS THE EXPERT
The important starting point in developing a concept for any public space is to identify the talents and assets within the community.
- CREATE A PLACE, NOT A DESIGN
To make an under-performing space into a vital “place,” physical elements must be introduced that would make people welcome and comfortable, such as seating and new landscaping.
- LOOK FOR PARTNERS
Partners are critical to the future success and image of a public space improvement project.
- YOU CAN SEE A LOT JUST BY OBSERVING
We can all learn a great deal from others’ successes and failures. By looking at how people are using (or not using) public spaces and finding out what they like and don’t like about them.
- HAVE A VISION
The vision needs to come out of each individual community. However, essential to a vision for any public space is an idea of what kinds of activities might be happening in the space.
- START WITH THE PETUNIAS: LIGHTER, QUICKER, CHEAPER
The complexity of public spaces is such that you cannot expect to do everything right initially.
“Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other” (Holly Whyte).
- THEY ALWAYS SAY “IT CAN’T BE DONE”
Creating good public spaces is inevitably about encountering obstacles, because no one in either the public or private sectors has the job or responsibility to “create places.”
- FORM SUPPORTS FUNCTION
Although design is important, these other elements tell you what “form” you need to accomplish the future vision for the space.
- MONEY IS NOT THE ISSUE
This statement can apply in a number of ways. For example, once you’ve put in the basic infrastructure of the public spaces, the elements that are added that will make it work (e.g., vendors, cafes, flowers and seating) will not be expensive.
- YOU ARE NEVER FINISHED
By nature good public spaces that respond to the needs, the opinions and the ongoing changes of the community require attention.
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