With historical roots in cultures all over the world, the public square is being rediscovered as an effective tool for bringing people together. In cities and towns around the world, people are crying out for lively gathering places where civic life flourishes and different cultures mix. Public squares are important to cities’ social and economic future because they are where people experience their neighborhoods and each other. The benefits go far beyond just making better spaces for people:
- Economic and Community Development – Public squares can catalyze private investment and small scale entrepreneurial activities.
- Community identity – Squares nurture and define community identity by providing a sense of identity, encouraging volunteerism, and highlighting the values within the community.
- Bridge-building – Squares draw a diverse population, including more women, elderly, and children, as well as a greater ethnic and cultural mix – and encouraging people to get involved and take pride in the area. Public squares are a “common ground.”
To be successful, public squares should have activities and amenities that attract people individually as well as groups. PPS’s Placemaking approach to squares begins by developing an understanding about how different ages, sizes of groups and different cultures will use them and what activities will draw them there. In this approach, design is not the starting point; it is the response to how the space will ultimately be used. A Placemaking process is used to help a community articulate its vision for how they want to use the square and then this is translated into a program of the uses, activities, and destinations that inform the concept plan. Successful squares have a series of dynamic destinations that attract different kinds of people each of which offers many choices of things to do – socializing, eating, reading, playing a game, interacting with art, etc. The following goals are the underpinning of a Placemaking process:
- Understanding how people are using or will use the square
- A common vision among the community and stakeholders
- A program of uses and activities that represents the community vision and that can be used to inform the design and management strategy
- An activity plan for each of the destinations within the square
- A management plan and strategy