Effective public spaces are extremely difficult to accomplish, because their complexity is rarely understood. As William (Holly) Whyte said, “It’s hard to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.”
PPS (The Project for Public Spaces) has identified 11 key elements in transforming public spaces into vibrant community places, whether they’re parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks or the myriad other outdoor and indoor spaces that have public uses in common. These elements are:
1. The Community Is The Expert
. . . Tapping this (community) information at the beginning of the process will help to create a sense of community ownership in the project that can be of great benefit to both the project sponsor and the community.
2. Create a Place, Not a Design
. . . To make an under-performing space into a vital “place,” physical elements must be introduced that would make people welcome and comfortable, such as seating and new landscaping, and also through “management” changes in the pedestrian circulation pattern and by developing more effective relationships between the surrounding retail and the activities going on in the public spaces. . . .
3. Look for Partners
. . . they are invaluable in providing support and getting a project off the ground. . . .
4. You Can See a Lot Just By Observing
. . . By looking at how people are using (or not using) public spaces and finding out what they like and don’t like about them, it is possible to assess what makes them work or not work. . . .
5. Have a Vision
. . . essential to a vision for any public space is an idea of what kinds of activities might be happening in the space, a view that the space should be comfortable and have a good image, and that it should be an important place where people want to be. . . .
6. Start with the Petunias: Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper
. . . The best spaces experiment with short term improvements that can be tested and refined over many years! . . .
. . . In a public space, the choice and arrangement of different elements in relation to each other can put the triangulation process in motion (or not). . . .
8. They Always Say “It Can’t Be Done”
. . . Creating good public spaces is inevitably about encountering obstacles, because no one in either the public or private sectors has the job or responsibility to “create places.” . . .
9. Form Supports Function
The input from the community and potential partners, the understanding of how other spaces function, the experimentation, and overcoming the obstacles and naysayers provides the concept for the space. . . .
10. Money Is Not the Issue
. . . (Once the infrastructure is in place and the community and partners are involved), people will have so much enthusiasm for the project that the cost is viewed much more broadly and consequently as not significant when compared with the benefits.
11. You Are Never Finished
Most of these principles make tremendous sense for the future development of Reston in either the TOD areas or beyond. Some, such as "money is not the issue," are not quite on track. Just ask the Tysons planning committee whether money is an issue, for example.. . . Being open to the need for change and having the management flexibility to enact that change is what builds great public spaces and great cities and towns.
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