Your Picks for the Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S. and Canada

Kathleen Toth
Oct 31, 2011
Dec 14, 2017

Ask yourself, what are the Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S. and Canada? A couple of obvious choices might come to mind -- New York’s Central Park, say, or Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, or Stanley Park in Vancouver.

The surprise winner: The Circle in Normal, Ill. Photo: HOERR SCHAUDT landscape architects

Chances are you didn’t flash on The Circle in Uptown Normal, Ill., which came out on top in the crowd-sourced poll the folks at Planetizen conducted with our help. As Tim Halbur wrote at Planetizen, “Passion was the rule of the day for our Top 100 Public Spaces survey project,” and the people of Normal turned out to be surprisingly passionate. (For the record, Central Park placed at #32, Rittenhouse Square at #17, and Stanley Park at #59.)

Let’s take a closer look at the not-so-obvious #1, which obviously inspires quite a lot of local passion. Normal’s Circle isn’t just any old roundabout. It’s a multifunctional shared space that provides entertainment and activities for the community and visitors alike all year long. The Circle also has sustainability cred: It recycles stormwater, recirculating it into the public drinking fountains and irrigation system. It’s a pleasant place to sit and relax, and it’s home to  a farmers market as well.

Here are the rest of the Top 10:

2. Temple Plaza, New Haven, Conn. 3. Campus Martius Park, Detroit, Mich. 4. Cal Anderson Park, Seattle, Wash. 5. CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, Mankato, Minn. 6. Bryant Park, New York, N.Y. 7. Pittsburgh Market Square, Pittsburgh, Pa. 8. Arts District at Bay Street, Bellingham, Wash. 9. Balboa Park, San Diego, Ca. 10. Church Street Marketplace District, Burlington, Vt.

Many of the spaces in the top 10 are projects that have been redeveloped in recent years in order to create a balance of form and functionality that serves the community, giving residents a sense of pride in and excitement for their neighborhoods. They are also places that serve as destinations, attracting visitors from outside the community. They will likely continue to thrive and evolve over time.

Some of the places on the list have been integral parts of the community for over 100 years, but it was only after they were redeveloped with an eye toward Placemaking that they found new life -- Pittsburgh’s Market Square (#7) is one such example. After many redevelopment attempts over the years, the latest refurbishment of Market Square has finally landed on a successful combination -- embracing historical elements of the original square, while at the same time redesigning aspects that were less successful. It is now a safe place for children to play, an appealing spot for workers from surrounding buildings to take a break, a venue for community-wide events, and much more.

The Planetizen survey points to the success of revitalization projects that are bringing neighborhoods all over the world back to life. Perhaps it’s a sign of yet more positive things to come.

For the full list and more in-depth information, head over toPlanetizen.

Kathleen Toth
Kathleen Toth
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