Public spaces shape the community and help in connecting neighborhoods. These are spaces of encounter and can help facilitate political mobilization, simulate actions and prevent crime. They are environments for interaction and exchange of ideas, which impacts the quality of the urban environment. Public spaces also provide health benefits, both physical and mental. People feel better and tend to be more active in well-designed public spaces.

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Public spaces have the power to connect people and cities. Image from Car Free NYC on Earth Day 2017_©New York City Department of Transportation

A good public space reflects the diversity and encourages people to live together, creating conditions for permanence, which invites people onto the street. It is the vitality of spaces that attracts people. Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people to create and maintain public spaces. PPS discusses ten reasons a public space needs to present to attract people. Without these ten factors, these spaces would remain as just alleyways or passages, where people don’t want to be, due to the absence of any people-pulling elements.

People would use public spaces if they feel the spaces are safe. The more the number of users, the safer the spaces are. Active facades and constructions on the human scale are related to the promotion of the local economy and ensure safer public spaces. Below are the ten principles that are essential for high-quality public space.

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What makes a great public space_©pps.org
  1. Diversity of uses: Mixing residential, office, and commercial areas like bars, restaurants, cafes, etc. make an environment safer and friendlier. The variety in the usage of a public space attracts more people. It would also generate external activities that would make the users safer. The increase in the number of people would help in keeping crimes at bay to an extent. The diversity in the uses needs to be present throughout the day for the effective functioning of the space. If spaces are active and inviting during the day and inactive at night, they become unsafe spaces at night. Planning public spaces which encourage the permanent presence of people and their coexistence is a way to ensure the security of the users.
  2. Active facades: The connection between the ground floor of the buildings and the street contributes to the safety and attractiveness of the urban design. Visually pleasing public spaces would be frequently used by people. The relationship influences people’s perception of spaces and how they are utilized. According to Jane Jacobs, the streets and sidewalks indicate how public spaces are perceived and utilized.
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Market vendors offer their goods to locals and passersby in Jamaa-el-Fna in Marrakesh_©SuperCar-RoadTrip.fr
  1. Social dimension and urban vitality: Public spaces act as an aggregator of people. It influences the social dimension. Elements like wide, accessible streets, squares, parks, sidewalks, bike paths, and urban furniture stimulate interaction between people and the environment, generate a positive use of space, and increase urban vitality. While focusing on high-density urban areas, peripherals also need to be considered, to guarantee the quality of public spaces to the population that does not like the urban centers.
  2. Human scale: Large-scale, high-density spaces negatively affect people’s mental health. Jan Gehl, in his study, concluded that people tend to walk faster while they pass empty or inactive spaces, in contrast to passing at a slower pace while walking in livelier and more active environments. Human-scale constructions help calm the human mind, which is necessary for urban areas with fast-paced lifestyles. It also generates a positive effect on people’s perception of public spaces. It would make people feel that user satisfaction was prioritized while designing the space.
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A mixture of activities, car-free spaces, and a strong cultural identity add to the success of Nyhavn in Copenhagen_©Bill Smith
  1. Lighting: Well-lit and people-oriented lighting in public spaces would ensure safety and security for the users, especially at night. It would attract more people to a space, whatever time of day. It is a way of investing in the security and safety of the users. 
  2. Stimulating the local economy: The quality of public spaces not only helps the people by offering leisure and living areas but also helps boost the economy. Safe and active conditions promote walking and cycling, which leads to easy access to local commerce.
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Locals relax and take advantage of the sun and spectacular views in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores Park _©Tim Riley
  1. Local identity: Small businesses, are to be considered while planning public spaces. Large enterprises contribute to the economy, but they won’t help increase users’ participation in the neighborhood. Small-scale businesses have a long time impact on the area and help in creating an identity of the space over time. Social dynamics and cultural aspects of an area need to be considered while designing a space to generate a strong relationship between people and space.
  2. Complete streets: Complete streets and shared spaces need to be considered for the design of public spaces, wherever possible. The concept of complete streets defines streets designed to ensure safe circulation of all users-pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and users of public transport. Sidewalks, bicycle lanes, street furniture, and signage for all users are a few elements that compose a complete street.
Moveable chairs can be found dotted on pathways around Luxembourg Gardens in Paris_©Byron T.
  1. Green areas: They help in improving air quality and in temperature regulation. As cities become denser with rapid development, urban afforestation is important to lower stress levels and enhance well-being in cities. They are also important for urban drainage and the maintenance of biodiversity.
  2. Social participation: Involving residents in the design, planning, and administration of public spaces would help in better-designed public spaces. This would help determine what the public wants and is currently lacking in the area so that these elements can be incorporated while designing the public spaces.

References

  1. Pps.org. (2014). Why Public Places are the Key to Transforming our Communities. [online] Available at: https://www.pps.org/article/why-public-places-are-the-key-to-transforming-our-communities.
  2. TheCityFix. (2017). Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Connecting People and the Streets |. [online] Available at: https://thecityfix.com/blog/public-spaces-10-principles-for-connecting-people-and-the-streets-priscila-pacheco/#:~:text=Public%20areas%20shape%20community%20ties [Accessed 6 Nov. 2022].
Author

Hridya is an architecture student keen on expressing herself through words and visual narratives, hence found architecture to be a common ground that combines these interests. Furthermore, she loves to explore new horizons to stretch her abilities.

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