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:
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. Please let us know about the places, in your town or anywhere around the world, you think are great by filling out the nomination form on our Great Public Spaces website.
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.
(Photo: Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, OR)
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.
(Photo: Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France)
A range of activities are the fundamental building blocks of a great place. Having something to do gives people a reason to come to a place--and return. When there is nothing interesting to do, a space will sit empty. That's the best measure that something is wrong. A carefully chosen range of activities will help a place attract a variety of people at different times of the day. A playground will draw young kids during the day, while basketball courts draw older kids after school and band concerts bring in everyone during the evening.
(Photo: Kungstradgarden, Stockholm, Sweden)
This is the most important quality for a place to achieve?and the most difficult. When a place becomes a favorite spot for people to meet friends, greet their neighbors, and feel comfortable interacting with strangers, then you are well on your way to having a great place.
(Photo: Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA)