Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ten Benefits of Creating Good Public Spaces

  1. Support local economies:The River Market in Little Rock, Arkansas, a $4.4 million project that opened in 1996, has been a catalyst for over $500 million in new and proposed construction, including the Clinton Presidential Library. The market has doubled in size in three years, and is given credit for the downtown's renaissance. PPS has been closely involved in the project.
  2. Attract business investments:In downtown Oak Park, Illinois, PPS recommended replacing a failed pedestrian mall with the original street. Even before the changes were fully implemented, there was a 100% increase in enquiries from potential tenants, and the vacancy rate eventually decreased from 30% to 5%.
  3. Attract tourism: After extensive user studies PPS recommended design improvements to the Channel Gardens at the Rockefeller Center. The changes, including increased seating, have allowed the gardens and world famous skating rink to become one of the most popular spaces in New York City and encouraged The Today Show, and other attractions, to locate there.
  4. Provide cultural opportunities: San Rafael, California, a city with a large Italian population, worked with PPS to create a vision for a neglected city park. The residents raised money to install bocce courts, which are managed by a local nonprofit. The park has since become a major source of civic pride: families come nightly from all over San Rafael, while media attention has attracted bocce enthusiasts from across the U.S. and Europe.
  5. Encourage volunteerism: In Corpus Christi, Texas, 1500 adults and children helped to make ceramic tiles decorating the benches, light poles, columns and central archway of Staples Street Station, a bus transfer center. PPS won a Federal Design Achievement Award for the project.
  6. Reduce crime:In the early 1980s, seven-acre Bryant Park in New York City was over-run by drug dealers - office employees and tourists didn’t dare venture in. With the changes recommended by PPS, the park now attracts 10,000 people on a sunny day, and presents a popular film festival on summer evenings.
  7. Improve pedestrian safety: PPS's experimental diagonal parking initiative in San Bernardino, California resulted in 50% more pedestrians along the street while increasing parking spaces by 25%.
  8. Increase use of public transportation: The successful renovation of Netherwood train station in Plainfield, New Jersey, under guidance from PPS has resulted in a 40% increase in ridership.
  9. Improve public health: Research shows that in neighborhoods where people walk less, people are more likely to be overweight. In the last year, PPS have trained 600 New Jersey transportation professionals in Context Sensitive Design - a design process that responds to local needs and helps create more walkable neighborhoods.
  10. Improve the environment: Increased awareness of the importance of open spaces increases responsible use of these resources, and reclaims waterfronts, rivers and meadows. PPS's Urban Parks Institute is a national resource center for efforts to restore urban parks.

    The Power of Ten

    Why Great Places are more than the sum of their parts.
    by Fred Kent

    arly in 2004 we were asked by Mimi Gates, the director of the Seattle Art Museum, to review plans for a new wing of the building. PPS Vice-President Kathy Madden and I were touring the Museum grounds with a group of local citizens, brainstorming how best to generate public activity around the building. Ideas were flying, and gradually we developed a vision for a series of focal points on the grounds and inside its lobby. As we got deeper into our discussion, someone asked, "How many separate focal points do you need to make it successful?"

    The entrance to the Seattle Art Museum represents an opportunity to create a focal point for public activity...

    At PPS, we usually don't talk in terms of numbers, so I had to give the matter some thought. I wanted to offer a challenging answer, but not something that would feel completely out of reach. "Ten," I said. "But we can't just plop down ten pieces of sculpture and say that's enough. We also need ten things to do at each focal point."
    That got everyone thinking about what makes great places great. It's really a matter of offering a variety of things to do in one spot -- whose quality as a place then becomes more than the sum of its parts. A park is good. A park with a fountain, playground, and popcorn vendor is better. A library across the street is even better, more so if they feature storytelling hours for kids and exhibits on local history. If there's a sidewalk café nearby, a bus stop, a bike trail, and an ice cream parlor, then you have what most people would consider a great place.
    What if a downtown had ten places that good? The area would then have a critical mass -- a series of destinations where tourists and residents alike could become immersed in the city for days at a time.

    ...and if we created ten places in downtown Seattle as good as the revitalized Art Museum, then it would be a great district.

    Taking the next step, what if a city could boast ten such neighborhoods? Then every resident would have access to outstanding public spaces within walking distance of their own homes. That's the sort of goal we should set for all cities if we are serious about enhancing and revitalizing urban life.
    I think we can go further still. How? Apply the "Power of Ten" on a regional scale by linking towns and cities together, with major public spaces and mixed-use neighborhoods serving as connections. That could be the basis for a new paradigm of regional development that sweeps away the destructive pattern of more freeways, big box stores, and cookie-cutter subdivisions.
    This idea gives people something tangible to strive for -- it helps them visualize what it takes to make their town or city great.
    PPS calls this concept the Power of Ten (indebted to the classic short film, "Powers of 10," by Charles and Ray Eames), but there's no reason to get fixated on a particular number. Whether you're talking about places in a given neighborhood, or great neighborhoods within a city, "Ten" refers generally to the ultimate goals of variety and choice. When we talk about the "Power of Ten," we're stressing the fact that we should always think of how Placemaking can be accomplished at different scales.
    To build our cities around places, as explored in this issue's feature story, it's not enough to have a single use dominate a particular place -- you need a diverse array of activities for people. It's not enough to have just one great place in a neighborhood -- you need a number of them to create a truly lively town. It's not enough to have one superior neighborhood in a city -- you need to provide people all over town with close-to-home opportunities to take pleasure in public life. And it's not enough to have one livable city or town in a region -- you need a collection of interesting communities.

    Greenwich Village compensates for a lack of outstanding individual public spaces with its abundance of street-level attractions.

    One of the chief values of using the Power of Ten as a framework for thinking about place is its flexibility. Take the neighborhood where our office is located, Greenwich Village. There may not be ten great public spaces within its boundaries, or even five. But it makes up for this deficiency with a vibrant streetlife and hundreds of small cafes, bars, restaurants, theaters, and small shops enlivening the neighborhood. Likewise, we're sure there are towns too small to possess ten or even three distinct neighborhoods, but which succeed as places nonetheless thanks to a plethora of healthy and lively public spaces. You can bend the principles behind the Power of Ten, as long as you preserve the spirit.
    This is an idea that gets people excited. Everywhere we bring up the Power of Ten, local citizens become more motivated and energized to turn their places around. We think it's because this idea gives people something tangible to strive for -- it helps them visualize what it takes to make their town or city great. As we promote a broader mission for Placemaking with our Great Cities Initiative, the Power of Ten is our way of reminding our clients, our readers, and ourselves that by starting efforts at the smallest scale, you can steadily accomplish big changes.