Urban Public Space

The success and popularity of urban environments relies strongly upon the design and quality of public space. It is in urban environments that the competition for space is fiercest and the density of population (and attendant demands on resources) the greatest.

In addition to the technical requirements that enable the urban area to function, public space must be attractive, safe and well-maintained, as well as accessible to users of all ages and a range of physical and mental abilities.

Achieving this requires considerable resources and co-ordination, and the most successful places are a demonstration of developer commitment and civic pride. Streets, parks and squares – and their relationship to surrounding buildings – dictate the overwhelming character and identity of places to a greater extent than the architecture and detailing of the built form. Well-designed spaces provide for the complex needs of the residential and business communities and offer a satisfactory balance between competing interests. Public space should also be designed to accommodate and encourage biodiversity.

It is important to move away from a view of space as comprised of separate functional areas and towards a conception of the public realm as one shared environment. This necessitates a change in the way such places are designed and built.

Components of Urban Public Space

Streets – the space enclosed by the fronts of buildings comprising highway space, meeting space, commercial space, utility and recycling infrastructure, play space and green routes.

Paths – neither streets nor footways; not often incorporated in new designs but can be vital in linking streets, squares and other places.

Squares – visually static spaces suitable for sitting and socialising accommodating a range of acitivty and uses including community activity sessions or shared games.

Pocket parks – small spaces within the urban block structure, including parklets.

Recreation Grounds – usually a legacy of earlier open-space planning; provision made for sport.

Open space – for socialising, informal play, nature, landscaping, informal recreation, water management, cultural activities and entertainment.

Parks – formal landscape but possibly with open spaces and sports facilities. Provision for a variety of functions depending on size.

Waterfront – may host any of the above.

Invariably, the public space network and the movement and activities it enables will connect with the surroundings to become part of a wider urban system. Collectively, this shapes the sustainability of the town.

Understanding both local and global spatial and operational relationships is essential, and the Context Appraisal is a convenient platform from which to discuss the needs and opportunities for good collaborative design. Evidence that this has occurred should be submitted with any planning application for site development.

Page updated: 22/02/2023

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