As Project for Public Spaces rings in the New Year, it has been a longstanding tradition to look back at the most popular and significant articles that we featured on our blog over the past year. While 2018 was a year of transformation and growth for Project for Public Spaces and for the placemaking movement at large, one constant has been our curiosity and commitment to bringing you new tools, ideas, and issues on our blog. So take a look at some of our most read articles of the year!
In a time where our built environment is increasingly filled with cameras, sensors, and other data-collecting machinery—not to mention the little spies in our pockets—one would think that our public spaces must be constantly learning and improving. Yet so many places continue to underperform, and many important but small-scale indicators fall through the cracks of Big Data.
That’s why for our most read article of the year (and its two follow-ups), we decided to interview Fred Kent, our founder and one of the world’s foremost observers of public space, to uncover some of the intangible metrics that define a great place. He highlighted three key human experiences—affection, comfort, and improvisation—as well as 15 observable indicators to spot them.
In June 2019, 300 public market managers, designers, advocates and decision-makers will convene in London, UK—a city that has nearly as many markets as we have participants!
The 10th International Public Markets Conference will build on thirty years of history, going back to the inaugural conference in Seattle, WA, 1987. The most recent gathering in Barcelona, Spain in 2015, concluded with a public declaration calling for governments at all levels to integrate markets into their broader policy frameworks. Our co-host this year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, has done just that. To coincide with the announcement of the conference, the Mayor of London released a groundbreaking city-wide strategy to ensure that markets continue to bring diverse social, cultural, and economic benefits to all Londoners.
When local transportation activists run into an unexpected roadblock, how they deal with it can make or break their campaign. This year, we created a simple troubleshooting toolkit to help placemakers keep moving forward in their fight for safer, livelier and more accessible streets, no matter what stage of their campaign they are at. We call it the Streets as Places Action Pack.
The Action Pack adds yet another component to our Streets as Places Toolkit, which also includes eight placemaking principles for great streets, and a library of actions that individuals, communities, and governments can take to improve their own streets.
This year marked an important milestone for Project for Public Spaces, as our founder Fred Kent passed the torch to a new CEO, Phil Myrick. This is something of a homecoming for Myrick, as he began his career at Project for Public Spaces, accruing dozens of placemaking projects over 18 years before continuing his career at Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc. as Director of Planning.
“I have devoted myself professionally to tapping the wisdom of people to shape their communities to be more healthy and vibrant, to helping communities reinforce their identity, celebrate their diversity, and put social life back at the center stage,” says Myrick. “It’s a great honor to follow in the footsteps of Fred Kent, and I am excited to develop new partnerships to continue PPS’s great legacy.”
Some days, reading the morning news, it can feel like we are in an episode of Black Mirror. Rather than connecting us into a “global village,” as pundits predicted more than two decades ago, the internet and its various offshoots has left us more distracted, disconnected, and tribalized than ever—all factors that have changed our expectations of public space.
For April Fools’ last year, we turned to the lighter side of this dark trend toward insulating ourselves from each other through virtual experiences, privatization, and social media’s mirage of genuine community.
As cities across the world look to welcome an unprecedented number of refugees, public spaces have risen to a new purpose: as places to welcome a community’s newest residents. From abandoned prisons brought to life in Amsterdam to refugee-designed housing in Thessaloniki, our article on refugees in public spaces outlined some out-of-the-box ideas for both housing and creating social connections with displaced people.
Sidewalk Toronto is getting ready to launch an unprecedented and data-driven approach to developing a waterfront—especially when it comes to the community engagement process, to which Sidewalk dedicated $50 million. We at Project for Public Spaces couldn’t help but think about how that money might be best spent. Our main advice was for Sidewalk Toronto to stay attuned to the vision of the community, to reach people where they are, to experiment, and never stop learning from residents.
Unfortunately, as the project has progressed, criticisms have arisen that while that initial investment may have allowed for a number of highly visible community engagement spectacles, the project’s technocratic approach and opaque public-private partnership has neglected the fundamentals of accountability. A truly futuristic district would adopt a transparent, community-driven approach to the governance of both places and data.
It is impossible to separate public space challenges from broader environmental challenges, and there is no impact of climate change that will not affect public spaces in cities all over the world. So how can we look at a global challenge like climate change through the lens of our local parks or public markets?
On Earth Day, we focused on the role of public spaces in an era of climate change, namely in fostering the strong social networks that help us to bounce back after disaster. Beyond being physically resilient, public spaces are one of our best tools for building a strong sense of community and stewardship—perhaps our best hope in a changing climate.
Many placemakers may think we already know the secret sauce for making our cities more walkable, and feel frustrated at the glacial pace of change when it comes to implementing this knowledge. Even if we have the right tools for the job, old rules, financial systems, professions, and politics continue to perpetuate the status quo. Thankfully, Christopher Leinberger has dedicated his life to moving things forward in at least one of those realms: real estate development. As a developer himself, his research on Walkable Urban Places (or WalkUPs) has helped to demonstrate the value of walkability to his colleagues in straight dollars and cents.
In this 2018 report, Leinberger and Tracy Hadden Loh hone in on an emerging group of fellow travelers. “Catalytic developers,” as the authors call them, radically improve the walkability of an entire district by investing patient equity, pursuing an integrated approach to development, and starting with employment uses first. In this snappy summary of the report, we unpack the stories and strategies behind this new way of doing business.
What makes a public space great for young people? Public spaces are crucial “third places” for young people, especially as they first encounter their newfound independence. But all too often, these spaces are made inhospitable to children and adolescents.
According to Setha Low, a cultural anthropologist and professor at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the elements that draw a younger crowd center on a sense of flexibility and access to the space. Low mentioned that the first step is to create a feeling of welcome, and to “[take] away the things that signal to youth that they aren’t wanted.” Only then can young people truly become a part of the placemaking process, and contribute a vision of cities for all.