Five Ways to a Great Place

photo by Ethan Kent

For 30 years, the Project for Public Spaces has worked with cities and neighborhoods to help create places that attract people—places where people young and old, rich and poor encounter one another, enjoy their surroundings, and experience being part of a community. What makes these places work? Why do some parks, main streets, and other public spaces become alive with activity and fun, while others become magnets for crime or sit empty? After studying that question, we discovered the qualities that divide a great place from the other kind.

1 Great places are full of activity.
A great place starts with offering a variety of things to do in one spot. 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 it features 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.

2 Invite affection.
A great place is one where people want to go to observe the passing scene, socialize, or celebrate interaction with a wide range of people who are different from themselves. It is where you arrange to meet friends, or bring visitors. When a place is working well, it encourages people to be relaxed and affectionate—the best places are full of affectionate activity, whether people are holding hands, having spontaneous friendly conversations with strangers, or sharing a kiss with a loved one. Have you ever noticed how many people are enjoying a conversation at a farmers market or on a friendly Main Street?

3 Are visible and accessible.
A great place is easy to see and easy to get to—people want to see that there is something to do, that others have been enticed to enter. On the other hand, if a place is not visible from the street or the street is too dangerous for older people and children to cross, the place won't be used. The more successful a place is, the more the success will feed upon itself. Sometimes, if a place is really good, people will walk through it even if they are headed somewhere else.

4 Are comfortable and safe.
Good details signal that someone took the time and energy to design a place that is welcoming. Community bulletin boards, restrooms, shade trees, child-friendly niches, and bike racks all help. Movable seating allows people to decide where they want to be in the space—alone, or with a few friends, in any configuration they like. Today, 2,000 movable chairs are scattered on the lawn of Bryant Park in New York; it is one reason that the Park has been transformed from a drug-infested public space to a popular mid-town haven.

5 Are places you can count on.
A neighborhood bocce court in a park, a corner bar, a coffeehouse, or a playground—all are informal places where you can anticipate lively conversations with the ‘regulars,' ‘characters,' and other neighbors. Every person is known for herself, not as an employee or family member—roles that can make people feel straightjacketed. Being able to rely on returning to a place to find something to do, or comfortably sit, converse, or just look at passersby, is key.

Sometimes a great place has great beauty, or  thoughtful design touches that say someone wanted you to feel welcome there. At other times, a great place works well just because it is neighborly— it draws people in and enables them to relax, talk, and watch people.

If you feel refreshed and rejuvenated after you leave it, you've been in a great place


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