COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Announcing Placemaking Week Keynote: Ben Hamilton-Baillie

Sep 1, 2017
Mar 7, 2019
“Streets play a hugely important role as the principal public space of cities, the place of display and encounter and movement.” — Ben Hamilton-Baillie.

We are another week closer to this year’s Placemaking Week in Amsterdam, and we’re taking an in-depth look at how people approach public spaces across the globe! In this week’s spotlight, we are excited to announce our keynote for the conference: Ben Hamilton-Baillie. Located in Bristol, UK, Hamilton-Baillie is a leading international placemaker, urban designer, and traffic engineer with a specialty in shared space.

If your goal is to make streets safer, it might seem that installing more crosswalks and signs is the logical first step. But what if we did the opposite; getting rid of the usual signage and curbs? What if the safest way to keep kids safe from traffic wasn’t to put up a fence, but to stick the playground in the middle of the street? If this were all true, what might that tell us about our public spaces in general?

These are the core questions behind shared space, a philosophy pioneered by Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. From the beginning, shared space has been about more than just moving all kinds of traffic more efficiently. It is a broader public space philosophy that emphasizes human intelligence and our personal responsibilities to ourselves and others. Hamilton-Baillie played a major role in popularizing the concept through his research on Monderman’s efforts to simplify and humanize over-engineered streets in the Dutch province of Friesland, as well as through his own work in the UK and around the world.

Looking Out for Each Other

When the “rules of the road” are dictated by the users of a space from moment to moment, the accountability and attention of those users becomes of utmost importance. A street becomes a place of silent communication: rather than serving as merely a way through, the street is incorporated as an active part of the space. The sharing of space rids users of false notions of security brought about by traditional road safety features, forcing a thoughtful approach to using a given space. In other words, it’s up to the users of a space to ensure each other’s safety.

This approach has not been without controversy—many argue that it is not so much a transportation concept, but rather a political concept. Changing the way that traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists see each other on the streets is no small task, and getting rid of crosswalks and street markings feels counter-intuitive. But the approach has had some stunning successes. In Poynton Village, Hamilton-Baillie helped reimagine a congested space space without any crosswalks or street lights. Now, an informal space comprised of two large roundels has transformed street-level interaction. The streets narrow in the segments most used by pedestrians, and these unmarked but visible crossings have become a point of thoughtful negotiation between people and traffic. The result is a mesmerizing dance of intuitive human coordination.


See Exhibition Road in action, another of Hamilton-Baillie's projects in London, UK.

Re-thinking something that might seem simple, like crossing the street, has huge implications for how safe streets can be and how social our public spaces can be. “Shared space is no longer just about the design of streets and capacity and movement, but about a quality that we rarely refer to: civility,” says Hamilton-Baillie. “Shared space is about how we generate the natural civility upon which cities depend.” Come learn how trading in crosswalks for eye contact just might be the seeds of a new, neighborly urban culture.

Make sure to register now for 2017’s Placemaking Week taking place this October. This year Project for Public Spaces collaborates with partners in Amsterdam—STIPO, City at Eye Level, Placemaking Plus, and Pakhuis de Zwijger where the bulk of the event will be held—to host a dynamic program of sessions and workshops, where attendees will develop and share concrete strategies for advancing placemaking locally and globally.

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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space