Creating Public Places That Matter

In most cities and neighborhoods, communities are feeling the effects of our progressive, technology-dependent world. As more of our life moves to automation and online services that don’t require human interaction, the creation of socially designed public spaces is more critical than ever to mending social bonds that have broken and creating new ones where they didn’t exist before.

At this point in human history, we can telecommute to work, access countless “friends” with the click of a button and have everything from socks to dinner delivered to our door. Human interactions are becoming less necessary, potentially leading us to a life of convenient loneliness.

But it doesn’t have to be this way—technology doesn’t have to drive us to disconnect. We can still foster relationships and connection in this automated lifestyle by focusing on creating places where social interaction is the priority.

Landscape architects, designers and the entire architectural community can play an important role in creating places that matter. They have the opportunity to positively influence the shape of our neighborhoods and communities.

The spaces they design have the potential to mend social bonds that have been broken, create new connections and improve our quality of life.

What Makes a Public Space Successful?

A successful public space takes on a life of its own.

The best places, according to Project for Public Spaces, generally share the same qualities: “they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.”

Landscape architects can design a successful public place by ensuring they are accessible to everyone in their community and give people an opportunity to connect with their neighborhood and natural surroundings.

Offering beautiful, comfortable and functional site furnishings is key to giving people a place to connect and the comfort to stay for as long as they’d like.

The Importance of Site Furniture

While the location of a public place matters, without the right design elements, a project can fall flat.

Site furniture plays an important role in successful design—more than we might realize. Choosing high-quality design elements serves both immediate and long term goals in a project. Well-designed site furniture promotes connection and serves the local community. By designing with the right furniture, public spaces can become iconic landmarks.

An example of such a success is Washington Square Park in New York City. The park is located near New York University and the Greenwich and West Village neighborhoods.

Washington Park is the perfect example of creating a public place that’s accessible. According to John Karras of urbanSCALE.com, “There are literally thousands of housing units and hundreds of commercial establishments within a 5-minute walk.”

The park features benches, outdoor chess tables, fountains and plenty of areas for people living and working in the nearby establishments to congregate.

It offers the community and all who visit a place to connect, play and thrive.

It’s an inviting space without all of these elements, but it’s not a place that’s nearly as livable, usable or iconic. It’s both the location and the design elements that make Washington Square Park what local bloggers call “magical.”

“The most vibrant urban neighborhoods are places that have a very strong identity. Their residents care about them deeply,” explain Karras. The park’s design and all of its elements add to the park’s identity, making it one of the most recognizable and popular urban spaces in the city.

Provide for Diverse Populations

While designers might not have a say in where their projects are located, they can plan to cater to the communities they’re working in.

“Some strive to create iconic landscapes with bold gestures and dramatic moves, but if the space isn't used and loved by the public then it's not successful,” says Greg Barger with CMG Landscape Architects.

Barger encourages designers to work directly with the people they’re creating these spaces for: “Talk to the community and learn about what they want. Prioritize functionality instead of drowning them only in form. People make the space successful, period.”

Find things about the space that will inspire joy in people and keep them coming back. It might have a sweeping view of the city below or a wide-open lawn that invites games and physical movement.

It might inspire visitors by connecting them to the area’s local roots or by providing a space where culturally-inspired events can take place.

Whatever the features of the space might look like, designers should look to the end-user to determine what will most delight and inspire them.

Future and Flexibility

A great public space is flexible enough that visitors can devise their own use for it.

Such a space encourages common use by providing an opportunity for people of different demographics to share it.

Let’s look at Washington Park again as an example. The space means something different to everyone who visits, and its significance and impact will continue to evolve as the neighborhood ages.

“Good public spaces are flexible and respond to evolution of the urban environment,” explains Barbara Porada, writer for ArchDaily, “so keeping the community in long term control ensures that the space will adapt to their changing needs.”

When the Whole is More Than the Sum of the Parts

Creating these kinds of spaces is no small feat. A successful urban design doesn’t just serve the immediate needs of the people who visit it: it has the potential to make communities stronger and healthier.

“Building inclusive, healthy, functional and productive cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” says Porada, “but when done right, they can jumpstart economic development, help build a sense of community, civic identity and culture, facilitate social capital and community revitalization. “

When designed and equipped correctly, public spaces will significantly increase the quality of life for those in the community by providing a place to connect, recharge and recreate. Create beautiful, meaningful public spaces with endless inspiration and site furnishing selections from idcreated.com.