Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What Makes a Place Great?

We all know that the Parkway is a really great place.

However, as we document regularly, it is not such a great place downriver, in the Lower Reach, where most knowledgeable Parkway users learn to avoid or rush through when they have to be there and hopefully in broad daylight.

But for those upriver it still is a great place.

So what makes a place great?

That question is the title of a very informative article from Project for Public Spaces.

What Makes a Place Great?

It's surprisingly simple.

Over the past 30 years Project for Public Spaces has evaluated more than 1,000 public spaces, and informally investigated tens of thousands more. From all this we have discovered that most great places--whether a grand downtown plaza or humble neighborhood park--share four key qualities:

  • It is accessible and well-connected to other important places in the area.
  • The space is comfortable and projects a good image.
  • People are drawn to participate in activities there.
  • It is a sociable place where people like to gather, visiting it again and again.

Paying attention to these qualities can help you evaluate the public spaces in your own community, and make the changes that can transform them into great places.

Access and Linkages

You can easily judge the accessibility of a place by noting its connections to the surroundings--including the visual links. A great public space is easy to get to, easy to enter, and easy to navigate your way through. It's arranged in a way so you can see most of what is going on there, both from a distance and up close. The edges of a public space also play an important role in making it accessible; a row of shops along a street, for instance, is more interesting and generally safer to walk along than a blank wall or an empty lot. Accessible spaces are conveniently reached by foot and, ideally, public transit, and have a high parking turnover.

Questions to consider about Access and Linkages:

· Can you see the space from a distance? Is its interior visible from the outside?
· Is there a good connection between this place and adjacent buildings? Or is it surrounded by blank walls, surface parking lots, windowless buildings, or other alienating elements that discourage people from entering the area?
· Do occupants of adjacent buildings use the space?
· Can people easily walk to the place? Or are they intimidated by heavy traffic or forlorn streetscapes?
· Do sidewalks lead to and from the adjacent areas?
· Does the space function well for people with disabilities and other special needs?
· Do the paths throughout the space take people where they actually want to go?
· Can people use a variety of transportation options--bus, train, car, bicycle--to reach the place?

Comfort and Image

A space that is comfortable and looks inviting is likely to be successful. A sense of comfort includes perceptions about safety, cleanliness, and the availability of places to sit. A lack of seating is the surprising downfall of many otherwise good places. People are drawn to places that give them a choice of places to sit, so they can at various times of day or year be either in or out of the sun. Women are good judges of comfort and image, because they tend to be more discriminating about the public spaces they use.

Questions to consider about Comfort and Image:

· Does the place make a good first impression?
· Are there as many women as men?
· Are there enough places to sit? Are seats conveniently located? Do people have a choice of places to sit, either in the sun or shade?
· Are spaces clean and free of litter? Who is responsible for maintenance?
· Does the area feel safe? Are there security personnel present? If so, what do these people do? When are they on duty?
· Are people taking pictures? Are there many photo opportunities available?
· Do vehicles dominate pedestrian use of the space, or prevent them from easily getting to the space?

For the rest of the article: http://www.pps.org/info/newsletter/august2005/august2005_what_makes_place_great