Our impressions of a city are shaped primarily by the quality of public spaces.
If it is not active and attractive, or if it conveys a feeling of insecurity, people will rarely return to it.
Good design of these spaces should be the rule, not the exception.
Between the city buildings, there is a network of spaces that create and strengthen connections at different levels of influence.
Public spaces, which fill urban gaps with life, are directly linked to the construction of the city and influence the relationships that arise within it.
When we refer to streets and other public spaces in a city, we are actually talking about the city’s own identity.
It is in these spaces that human exchanges and relationships,
the diversity of use and the invitation of each place, and the conflicts and contradictions of society are evident.
Public areas also form community bonds in neighbourhoods,
are meeting places, can facilitate political mobilization, stimulate action and help prevent crime.
They are also environments for interaction and exchange of ideas that influence the quality of the urban environment.
Although they are not considered “public spaces,” cafes and libraries have similar effects.
Public spaces also offer health benefits, both physical and mental: people feel better and tend to be more active in attractive public spaces.
It is possible to go deeper and link the existence and planning of public spaces to democratic values.
The culture, structure and social hierarchy of a place also reflect the way shared spaces are planned, controlled and used.
The more diverse and vibrant urban spaces are the more equal, prosperous and democratic society becomes.
This emphasis is based on the definition of public space itself: an open, democratic and freely accessible environment.
Good public space
A good public space is one that reflects diversity and encourages people to live together effortlessly,
creating the conditions necessary for continuity, and inviting people to be on the street.
It is also the liveliness of the spaces that attracts people.
What ensures this vitality is the possibility of enjoying urban spaces in different ways.
Secrets of designing active and attractive community spaces
The mix of residential, office and commercial areas,
such as restaurants, cafes and local trade, attracts people and makes the environment safer and friendlier.
Diversity of uses also creates outdoor activities that contribute to the safety of places: having more people on the streets helps prevent crime.
However, this diversity should include all times of the day.
If places are only attractive and crowded during the day, they will still be unsafe places at night.
Planning public spaces in a way that encourages coexistence and people’s continuity is also a way to invest in security.
2. Active interfaces:
The connection between the ground level of buildings, the sidewalk and the street contributes to the safety and attractiveness of urban design.
The most visually interesting streets are used more often by people.
In addition, this relationship affects people’s perception of the city and how it is used.
It is the streets and sidewalks that essentially indicate how public space is perceived and used.
3. The social dimension and urban vitality
As an assembly of people, public space has an impact on the social dimension.
Wide and accessible streets, squares, parks, sidewalks, bicycle paths and urban furniture stimulate interaction between people and the environment, generate positive use of space and increase urban vitality.
In addition to focusing on densely populated urban areas, it is necessary to take into account the periphery, ensuring the provision of high-quality public spaces for residents who do not live in the city Centre.
4. Human scale
High-scale and high-density construction can negatively affect people’s health.
People tend to walk faster when passing through empty or inactive areas, as opposed to a slower, calmer walking pace in more lively and active environments.
Human-scale constructions have a positive impact on people’s perceptions of public spaces: they feel that they have been taken into account in the planning process of that space.
Efficient, people-directed lighting makes it easier to occupy public spaces at night, enhancing safety.
When installed across pedestrians and cyclists, general lighting creates the conditions needed to move around safer when there is no natural light.
6. Stimulating the local economy
High-quality public spaces not only benefit people by providing entertainment and living areas, but they also have the potential to boost the local economy.
Safe and attractive conditions promote walking and cycling, resulting in easy access to local commerce.
7. Local identity
Public spaces should be planned for small businesses that characterize the neighborhood.
Large establishments (such as supermarkets) can contribute to the overall economy, but their contribution is minimal to the size of the neighborhood.
Small businesses and projects have significant long-term impacts and add to the character and identity of a place.
When planning a public space, it is necessary to take into account the social dynamics and cultural specificities of the area, in order to generate a strong connection between people and place.
8. Complete streets
Where possible, public areas that follow the principles of complete streets and “shared spaces” should be considered.
The Complete Streets concept defines streets designed to ensure safe mobility for all users – pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and public transportation users.
Well-maintained sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, street furniture and signage for all users are also among the elements that can make up a complete street.
9. Green areas
In addition to contributing to better air quality and helping moderate summer temperatures, vegetation has the potential to humanize cities by attracting people to outdoor activities.
As cities become denser, access to green public spaces will become more important because urban forestation can reduce people’s stress levels and enhance well-being in cities.
In addition, trees, plants and flower beds are of strategic importance for urban water drainage and biodiversity conservation.
10. Social sharing
Involving residents in the design, planning and management of urban public spaces or the neighborhoods in which they live is essential to maintaining the quality of these places.
Public spaces have different uses and meanings in every neighborhood and community.
Resident participation ensures that the nature and use of public space will meet distinct community needs.
If the space does not reflect the requirements and desires of local residents, it will not be used or maintained.
Social engagement is a key element in building safer and more equitable public spaces.
The way we live in cities is being reshaped every day, through the transformation of society and the emergence of new policies, technologies and alternative transportation options.
Urbanization, densification and rising rates of car use create planning challenges and motivate cities to consider new development models.
However, in the midst of ongoing transformation, the importance of public spaces for quality of life remains constant.
They are still spaces for exchange, coexistence and meetings. They remain vital to urban well-being, and behind the walls that surround us, on the street life happens.
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