THE COMMUNITY SPEAKS:
THE CASE FOR URBAN PLACEMAKING IN A TOD
B.A., University of Texas at Austin, 1990
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
In partial fulfillment
Of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Urban and Regional Planning
by Rick Muriby
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Urban and Regional Planning
Has been approved
Muriby, Rick M. (MURP, Urban and Regional Planning)
The Community Speaks: The Case for Urban Placemaking in a TOD
Thesis directed by Korkut Onaran, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Adjunct
As metropolitan regions throughout the United States have been
constructing regional transit lines to help alleviate traffic congestion and
improve the efficiency of transportation networks, a considerable amount
of research has gone into the establishment of Transit Oriented
Developments (TOD) for areas immediately surrounding transit stations.
TOD can help communities take advantage of the opportunity created by
these tremendous infrastructure improvements. Additionally, much has
been written in regard to urban placemaking as a way to reinvigorate
areas that lack vitality by focusing on the needs of the community to
create a sense of place. Where we have a gap in our knowledge is how
to connect TOD and urban placemaking in order to provide guidance to
communities who seek to create a real place around their transit
stations. To accomplish this, a set of five basic principles of urban
placemaking will be formulated through a critical reading of some of the
well-known literature in the field. Then, through case studies involving
interviews of residents, merchants and planners in three areas with future
plans for TOD, it will be demonstrated that urban placemaking principles
can serve as an effective guide for the TOD community planning process.
These different but related areas of study will be connected within a
framework that offers practical direction for creating urban places within
TODs. The research is based on data collected through interviews of
station area stakeholders using three case studies in Metro Denver, and
research assembled from the literary works of experts in the field.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my parents, who taught me the value of
perseverance, and to my wife, Marcy, for her support and understanding
while completing this thesis.
My thanks to my advisor, Korkut Onaran, for his contribution and support
to my research. I also wish to thank the members of my committee,
Fahriye Sancar and Jeremy Nemeth, for their valuable participation and
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Transit Oriented Development (TOD).................6
Defining Urban Place..............................11
2. THE PRINCIPLES OF URBAN PLACEMAKING..................23
Principle 1: Mix of Uses..........................26
Principle 2: Compact Urban Design.................34
Principle 3: Pedestrian-Oriented Design...........43
Charles C. Bohl...................................61
Principle 4: Vital Community Spaces..................63
William H. Whyte..................................82
Charles C. Bohl...................................96
Clare Cooper-Marcus and Carolyn Francis..........103
Principle 5: Community Events and Interaction.......109
Clare Cooper-Marcus and Carolyn Francis..........112
3. CASE STUDIES: COMMUNITY VIEWPOINTS.....................115
Alameda Case Study..................................123
Lack of Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity.......128
Need Vibrant Public Spaces........................134
Need Multi-family Residential.....................140
Lack of Parking and Traffic Capacity..............141
Lack of Trust for City Staff and Politicians......144
Lack of Community Engagement......................146
Evans Station Case Study.............................147
Lack of Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity.......151
Need a Main Street with Mix of Uses...............154
Need for More Density.............................156
Lack of Vibrant Gathering Places..................157
Littleton Station Case Study.........................159
Need More Residential.............................162
Lack of Multi-Family Density......................164
Need Historic Preservation of Place...............166
Need Walkability Emphasized.......................171
Need More Community Events........................178
Need to Slow Rising Rents.........................179
LIST OF FIGURES
1.1 Denvers TOD typologies.....................................10
2.1 New York City street........................................27
2.2 Short blocks................................................36
2.3 Long blocks.................................................37
2.4 Greenwich Village area......................................39
2.5 Street in Siena.............................................47
2.6 Rockefeller Plaza...........................................48
2.7 Annapolis, Maryland.........................................50
2.8 Newberry Street.............................................55
2.9 Las Ramblas.................................................59
2.10 Central Park, NYC...........................................66
2.11 Rittenhouse Square..........................................69
2.12 Piazza San Marco............................................73
2.13 Piazza San Marco............................................75
2.14 Siena Piazza................................................76
2.15 Piazza in Rome...........................................77
2.16 Street in Siena..........................................82
2.17 Bryant Park, NYC.........................................84
2.18 Washington Square, NYC...................................87
2.19 Washington Square........................................90
2.20 Piazza in Florence.......................................93
2.21 Spanish Steps............................................95
2.22 Piazza in Florence.......................................98
2.23 Central Park statue.....................................108
2.24 Oktoberfest, Vail.......................................111
2.25 Street Performers, NYC..................................112
2.26 Street Musicians, NYC...................................113
2.27 Farmers Market, San Francisco..........................114
3.2 Alameda Station.........................................125
3.3 Broadway Marketplace...................................126
3.4 Cherokee Street.........................................129
3.5 Alameda (West)..........................................130
3.6 Alameda Barriers........................................131
3.7 Alameda Station (toward Athmar).........................132
3.8 Broadway Marketplace....................................139
3.9 Overland Park..............................................149
3.10 Evans Viaduct at Delaware St...............................151
3.11 Delaware St. Looking South.................................157
3.12 Littleton Station area.....................................161
3.13 Main Street................................................167
3.14 Main Street................................................168
3.15 Car/Ped. Bridge Over R.R...................................173
3.16 Main Street................................................175
There are two key concepts in this study that will be addressed in relation
to one another: Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and the concepts
behind urban placemaking. I will assemble a set of urban placemaking
principles from the prominent literature on the subject, and show that what
community members in three TOD case study areas desire is urban
vitality that can be created using these urban placemaking principles,
which can then be used to guide the community planning process.
The qualitative study focuses on the transit stations of Metropolitan
Denver and the opportunities for TOD created by the expansion of this
mass transit system. Metro Denver opened its light rail service in the early
1990s, and now has lines that serve downtown as well as the suburbs to
the Southwest and Southeast of town. The roughly 40 miles of track and
accompanying stations have had a mixed record in terms of attracting
development around this important transit infrastructure, despite the
popularity of the service in terms of ridership.
Even where development has taken place, there is much room for
improvement in attracting the type of uses and densities that would take
advantage of the opportunities presented by a transit investment with the
power to transform the way residents live.
In 2004, Metro Denver voters approved a $4.7 billion bond issue to fund a
119-mile expansion of the RTD rail service. The expansion plan, called
FasTracks, will add even more opportunity for TOD throughout the region.
These additions to the Metro Denver rail system, and the high level of
importance the plan places on TOD, is the reason this study focuses on
this region. It is imperative that these communities take full advantage of
the opportunity created by the tremendous infrastructure improvements
represented by FasTracks to better fulfill the public purpose.1
1 The term public purpose is often used in the profession of urban
planning, though there is no precise definition. In the field of urban
planning, however, fulfilling the public purpose is perhaps the primary
directive. This includes the provision of a healthy and safe environment,
access to urban amenities such as housing, transportation and
conveniences, promoting equity for all citizens, building a sense of
community and promoting an overall high quality of life.
Communities in Metro Denver identified for the more than 50 new stations
are struggling with how to approach station design and development, and
are eager for solutions that will improve the quality of life for their citizens.
Many have already expressed the desire to create a real place in these
largely suburban or former industrial areas that will give residents a
community gathering space that goes beyond their need for efficient mass
transit, and are looking for some guidance. For example, in January of
2007, the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) sponsored the first in a
series of discussions called Placemaking in a FasTracks World. The
Partnership invited city planning departments and elected officials from
around the Denver Metro area to begin discussions on place and how it
can be created within TODs to benefit the community.
Urban places cannot be mass-produced or stamped out like subdivisions
of single-family homes. One size does not fit all, which is why urban
placemaking is important. The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an
organization that has devoted itself to placemaking since 1975, defines
the concept of placemaking thusly: Simply put, Placemaking capitalizes
on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, ultimately
creating good public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and
well being.2 The reason placemaking is so important for TOD is that it
focuses on a community planning process that seeks public input to
improve that community by addressing its needs and designing the TOD
to fit within the context of the surrounding neighborhoods. I will argue that
these needs, expressed by residents and stakeholders in each area,
represent the public purpose.
TOD alone may provide many of the basic elements for urban
placemaking opportunities, but special attention must be paid if these
areas are to also become real places that inspire the people living in the
area to gather, linger and feel a sense of identity with the community. This
is a tall order, but the chances of being able to create a place around a
TOD are greatly enhanced by following a number of planning concepts
after careful analysis of an individual site.
Reconnecting America is a national organization that focuses on the link
between land use and public transportation. The non-profit group has
developed a station typology system that has been adopted by the City of
2 PPS Online. Project for Public Spaces, .
http://www.DPS.ora/info/bulletin/what is placemakina
Denver and used within the context of this study to choose case studies
with common typologies found in Metro Denver.
This qualitative study will focus on three existing light rail stations in Metro
Denver and will be based on interviews of residents, business owners and
planners to determine how these station areas could be improved, in their
opinions, and then to what degree the issues raised relate back to urban
placemaking principles. The results will inform these and other
communities with transit stations that fall under these three common
station typologies chosen. The goal of the study is to improve the
community planning process as it relates to TODs, and explore, through a
systematic discussion, the degree to which the public purpose can be
better served by introducing urban placemaking principles to the TOD
Using a number of well-respected authors on these subjects, I will craft a
set of urban placemaking principles that can be compared against the
responses from interviews conducted for each of the three case studies.
Urban vitality will be the lens through which the idea of place will be
examined in this study.
Armed with a set of urban placemaking principles, planners, developers,
local politicians and others will have a path to serve the public purpose by
involving the community to create more successful places. This will
provide a means of more fully capitalizing on the opportunity represented
by TOD, rather than just construct developments around transit that
respond to generic market needs.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD)
Peter Calthorpes The Next American Metropolis contains a number of
TOD planning principles, which are interrelated and form a cohesive
approach to restructuring the American city. However, designing a city
primarily for the pedestrian experience appears to be the foundation for
the authors vision. When referring to his own guidelines for Transit
Oriented Development, Calthorpe states, A walkable environment is
perhaps the key aspect of the concept.3
3 Calthorpe, Peter. The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Communities,
and the American Dream. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993:
Calthorpe continues, A healthy walking environment can succeed without
transit, but a transit system cannot exist without the pedestrian.4 If
increasing mass transit ridership is an objective, due to the efficiencies it
creates relative to the auto, a pedestrian friendly environment is needed to
make it a success in this view. The Transit Oriented Development concept
is when, moderate and high-density housing, along with complementary
public uses, jobs, retail and services, are concentrated in mixed-use
developments at strategic points along the regional transit system.5
The author provides a summary of the principles of TOD:
Organize growth on a regional level to be compact and
Place commercial, housing, jobs, parks, and civic uses
within walking distance of transit stops;
Create pedestrian-friendly street networks which directly
connect local destinations;
Provide a mix of housing types, densities and costs;
Preserve sensitive habitat, riparian zones, and high
quality open space;
Make public spaces the focus of building orientation and
neighborhood activity; and
4 Calthorpe, Peter. The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Communities,
and the American Dream. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993:
5 Calthorpe 41.
Encourage infill and redevelopment along transit
corridors within existing neighborhoods.
Calthorpe defines TOD in the following manner:
A Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a mixed-use
community within an average 2,000-foot walking distance of
a transit stop and core commercial area. TODs mix
residential, retail, office, open space, and public uses in a
walkable environment, making it convenient for residents
and employees to travel by transit, bicycle, foot, or car.6 7
This differs somewhat from Reconnecting Americas TOD radius
definition, which is a half-mile radius from a transit station rather than
2,000 feet, though it is similar otherwise. Since Denver adopted the half-
mile definition for its own TOD standards, this will be the definition for the
purposes of this study.
Where Calthorpe and Reconnecting America differ most is the level of
detail associated with transit station types. Calthorpe offers only two types:
urban and neighborhood.
Urban TODs are located directly on the trunk line transit
network: at light rail, heavy rail, or express bus stops. They
6 Calthorpe, Peter. The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Communities,
and the American Dream. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993:
7 Calthorpe 56.
should be developed with high commercial intensities, job
clusters, and moderate to high residential densities.
Neighborhood TODs are located on a local or feeder bus line
within 10 minutes transit travel time (no more than 3 miles)
from a trunk line transit stop. They should place an emphasis
on moderate density residential, service, retail,
entertainment, civic, and residential uses.8
It is interesting to note that Calthorpes Neighborhood TOD definition is a
TOD that is not located on a rail line itself, but functions as a satellite area
that is connected to the Urban TOD by bus. He therefore categorizes all
TODs located adjacent to rail lines as Urban TODs."
The Reconnecting America station typology system, as adopted by
Denver, takes Calthorpes basic Urban TOD definition and breaks it
down into seven different categories, shown in Figure 1.1. Denver and
Reconnecting America have recognized that one size does not fit all when
addressing the issues and opportunities for each station designated as a
TOD site, and these categories address that need to be more site specific.
8 Calthorpe, Peter. The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Communities,
and the American Dream. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993:
TOD Typology Desired Land Use Mix Desired Housing Types Commercial/ Employment Types Proposed Scale Transit System Function
Downtown Office, retail, residential, entertain- ment and civic uses Multi-family and loft Prime office and shopping location 5 stories and above Intermodal facility/transit hub. Major regional destination with high quality feeder bus/streetcar connections
Major Urban Center Office, retail, residential, entertain- ment Multi-family and townhome Employment emphasis, with over 250.000 sf office & 50.000 sf retail 5 stories and above Sub-Regional destination. Some Park-n-ride. Linked with district circulator transit and express feeder bus.
Urban Center Office, retail, residential Multi-family and townhome Limited office. Less than 25,000 sf office. More than 50,000 sf retail. 3 stories and above Sub-Regional destination. Some Park-n-ride. Linked with district circulator transit and express feeder bus.
Urban Neighbor- hood Residential, neighbor- hood retail Multi-family, townhome, small lot, single-family Local-serving retail. No more than 50,000 sf 2-7 stories Neighborhood walk-up station. Very small Park-n- ride, if any. Local bus connections.
Commuter Town Center Office, retail, residential Multi-family, townhome, small lot, single-family Local and commuter- serving. No more than 25,000 sf 2-7 stories Capture station for in-bound commuters. Large Park-n-ride with local and express bus connections.
Main Street Residential, neighbor- hood retail Multi-family Main street retail infill 2-7 stories Bus or streetcar corridors.
Campus/ Special Events Station University Campus, Sports Facilities Limited multi-family Limited office/ retail Varies Large Commuter destination. Large parking reservoirs but not necessarily for transit
Figure 1.1: Denvers TOD typologies
Source: Denvers Transit-Oriented Development Strategic Plan, August
Defining Urban Place
It should be noted at the outset of this section that the intention of this
study is not to develop a definition of place. However, it is helpful to offer
a perspective on place in a general sense and then in a more urban
context before launching into Chapter 2, which is a review of the urban
placemaking literature. The hope is that this more theoretical discussion
of place will help to inform the concept of placemaking, which is
essentially about making vital urban places.
Defining place in simple terms presents a challenge. The geographer Yi-
Fu Tuan wrote:
The ideas space and place require each other for
definition. From the security and stability of place we are
aware of the openness, freedom and threat of space, and
vice versa. Furthermore, if we think of space as that which
allows movement, then place is pause; each pause of
movement makes it possible for location to be transformed
Tuan asserts that place relates to experience, which is difficult to put into
words and therefore is often ignored and thought to be less important than
9 Tuan, Yi-fu. Space and place : the perspective of experience.
Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1977: 6.
more tangible concepts surrounding the physical environment. He writes
that planners move too quickly to act on data without taking the time to
take into account subtle human experiences. Instead, we rely on cliches
that bypass the need to delve more deeply into the feelings surrounding
place. Understanding place requires us to utilize all the senses and
address the complexity and range of human experience.10
The author makes a case for bringing human feeling and emotion into our
discussions on design, which traditionally rely more on thought due to the
perceived objectivity of this approach. However, Tuan believes that
thought is only one side of what comprises human experience.
It is a common tendency to regard feeling and thought as
opposed, the one registering subjective states, the other
reporting on objective reality. In fact, they lie near the two
ends of an experiential continuum, and both are ways of
The human mind experiences more than just thoughts, and in order to
understand how people respond to the design of a place we have to also
10 Tuan, Yi-fu. Space and place : the perspective of experience.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977: 7.
11 Tuan 10.
look at the way it makes us feel, even though this is often less tangible
and more difficult to put into words than how we think about a place. "The
body responds, as it has always done, to such basic features of design as
enclosure and exposure, verticality and horizontality, mass, volume,
interior spaciousness, and light."12 Here Tuan seems to argue that these
are universal feelings and that reactions to space and place can be
incorporated into design in a more objective fashion.
He writes, "Place is a pause in movement. Animals, including human
beings, pause at a locality because it satisfies certain biological needs.
The pause makes it possible for a locality to become a center of felt
Tuan offers no easy explanations for what makes a space a place. Instead
he seems to readily acknowledge that establishing the feeling side of his
experiential continuum is a difficult and time-consuming process.
The visual quality of an environment is quickly tallied if one
has the artist's eye. But the "feel" of a place takes longer to
acquire. It is made up of experiences, mostly fleeting and
12 Tuan, Yi-fu. Space and place : the perspective of experience.
Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1977: 116.
13 Tuan 138.
undramatic, repeated day after day and over the span of
years. It is a unique blend of sights, sounds, and smells, a
unique harmony of natural and artificial rhythms such as
times of sunrise and sunset, of work and play.14
The role of time in the establishment of place is further addressed in a
passage on permanence. "Permanence is an important element in the
idea of place. Things and objects endure and are dependable in ways that
human beings, with their biological weaknesses and shifting moods, do
not endure and are not dependable."15
The history of a place and its sense of permanence can arguably be felt in
the old plazas and streets of Europe, such as the Piazza San Marco in
Venice, but how this translates to creating new places around TODs in
21st century America may be a difficult leap. Clues to some of the
ingredients that can be used to establish place in an urban environment
can be found in the placemaking literature, which will be discussed in the
subsequent chapter, though it is Tuans point that we must explore this
concept beyond the realm of design alone.
14 Tuan, Yi-fu. Space and place : the perspective of experience.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977: 184.
15 Tuan 140.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg is another scholar who has written about the
meaning of place with his concept of the third place. Oldenburg refers
to home and work as the first two places in life where we spend the most
time, and the third place as where we go on a more informal basis to get
away from the first two places. "The third place is a generic designation for
a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal,
and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of
home and work.16
The author describes the rise of the automobile suburb in America,
following WW2, as a turn away from public life and an embrace of a
private life in isolated residential communities devoid of third places where
people can interact with one another outside of the home or with their
immediate neighbors. Oldenburg points to an attempt to replace
community with consumerism, which has led to the boredom and isolation
that many feel in these suburban environments devoid of third places in
which to gather and connect with others.
The problem of place in America manifests itself in a sorely
deficient public life. The structure of shared experience
16 Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe and
Company, 1989: 16.
beyond that offered by family, job, and passive consumerism
is small and dwindling. The essential group experience is
being replaced by the exaggerated self-consciousness of
individuals. American lifestyles, for all the material
acquisition and the seeking after comforts and pleasures,
are plagued by boredom, loneliness, alienation, and a high
The purchase of the even larger home on the even larger lot in the
even more lifeless neighborhood is not so much a matter of joining
community but retreating from it. Encouraged by a continuing
decline in the civilities and amenities of the public or shared
environment, people invest more hopes in their private acreage.
They proceed as if a house can substitute for a community if only it
is spacious enough, entertaining enough, comfortable enough,
splendid enough and suitably isolated from that common horde
that politicians still refer to as our fellow Americans.18
Oldenburg sees the post-war rejection of urban life as leading to an
abandonment of a meaningful public life, which leaves us without an
17 Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe and
Company, 1989: 13.
18 Oldenburg 7.
important means of blowing off steam and releasing stress from home and
In the absence of an informal public life, Americans are
denied those means of relieving stress that serve other
cultures so effectively. We seem not to realize that the
means of relieving stress can just as easily be built into an
urban environment as those features which produce stress.19
Neighborhoods need neutral ground, within close proximity of homes,
where people can feel comfortable and associate on an informal basis and
on their own terms, according to the author.
In order for the city and its neighborhoods to offer the rich
and varied association that is their promise and their
potential, there must be neutral ground upon which people
may gather. There must be places where individuals can
come and go as they please, in which none are required to
play host, and in which all feel at home and comfortable.20
Like Tuan, Oldenburg points to the lack of language used to describe
these places, and therefore the third place is often forgotten. The subject
seems to either be ignored or taken for granted in our descriptions of the
physical environments in which we live. Very little thought is given to what
19 Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe and
Company, 1989: 10.
20 Oldenburg 22.
makes a place important to us on an emotional level, which may be the
very thing that makes it special.
The wonder is that so little attention has been paid to the
benefits attaching to the third place. It is curious that its
features and inner workings have remained virtually
undescribed in this present age when they are so sorely
needed and when any number of lesser substitutes are
described in tiresome detail.21 22
Main streets can also function as a third place in a community. Oldenburg
describes the town of River Park in 1940 as a vibrant place where people
had chance encounters with others in the town. The architecture, with
large windows, broad steps, and outdoor seating, helped facilitate this
third place environment by unifying the indoors and outdoors to create life
on the street.
That the social component in frequenting Main Street was
strong could be detected in the manner in which people
walked along it.... In River Park, people walked slowly and
with open and expectant faces. They were amenable to
stopping and exchanging greetings, and they expected to do
Oldenburg is careful not to overly romanticize this look back at Main Street
USA by also describing those who actively avoided each other on the
21 Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe and
Company, 1989: 20.
22 Oldenburg 108.
street due to some past falling out or ongoing argument. To the author,
however, this is all part of the theater of public life. Human interaction,
beyond just that offered in private life, is a need within all of us and one
that is largely going unfulfilled due to a lack of attention to the importance
of the third place.
Oldenburg writes of core settings in a community, whether within a
neighborhood or along a Main Street, where people go to meet and
exchange gossip. This can be a coffee shop, cafe, bar, post office, drug
store or any place that people feel comfortable and that is centrally
Oldenburg asserts that even commercial districts need to be about more
than just commerce, and this is what has been forgotten in the post-war
rush to profits. Creating the ability to just "hang out, if one wishes, in a
human scale environment that is free and open to all is what the third
23 Oldenburg Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe and
Company, 1989: 112.
Though the term place was not yet coined, Jane Jacobs was one of the
original thinkers on the subject with her observations of city life in Boston,
New York and elsewhere in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Jacobs writes of the importance of the people in a neighborhood, along
with an active street and sidewalk, to create safety on a city street, but she
also has much to say about the informal human contact that city sidewalks
can foster, which she calls public life.
Like Oldenburg, Jacobs does not romanticize this type of contact. She
writes, They bring together people who do not know each other in an
intimate, private social fashion and in most cases do not care to know
each other in that fashion.24 She indicates that we need a balance
between these informal contacts of public life and the deeper relationships
we have in our private lives by stating,
A good city street neighborhood achieves a marvel of
balance between its peoples determination to have essential
privacy and their simultaneous wishes for differing degrees
of contact, enjoyment or help from the people around. This
balance is largely made up of small, sensitively managed
24 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 55.
details, practiced and accepted so casually that they are
normally taken for granted.25
Jacobs talks about those establishments where neighbors trust the
proprietor to hang on to their keys for a friend to pick up, take in packages
and perform other small favors for people in the neighborhood. The line
between public and private life is always maintained, though, which is
important. She contrasts this with the togetherness or nothing nature of
exclusively suburban residential areas without this public life.
Under this system, it is possible in a city street neighborhood
to know all kinds of people without unwelcome
entanglements, without boredom, necessity for excuses,
explanations, fears of giving offense, embarrassments
respecting impositions or commitments, and all such
paraphernalia of obligations which can accompany less
Like Tuan and Oldenburg, Jacobs recognizes that society takes the
somewhat intangible concept of place for granted where it exists and
then has difficulty pinpointing the problem where it does not exist.
25 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 59.
26 Jacobs 62.
Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts
are the small change from which a citys wealth of public life may grow.27
Jacobs sees that cities, and the places found within them, function as
systems of interrelated components, and that people are drawn to places
where other people are present. "In cities, liveliness and variety attract
more liveliness; deadness and monotony repel life. And this is a principle
vital not only to the ways cities behave socially, but also to the ways they
behave economically.28 While there is no foolproof recipe to follow when
developing a place that is attractive to people and promotes a rich public
life, she argues that there are some principles that can be used
effectively, and this will be further explored in the placemaking literature.
First we have to know the general results we want and
know because of knowing how life in cities works. We have
to know, for instance, that we want lively, well-used streets
and other public spaces, and why we want them. But
knowing what to want, although it is a first step, is far from
enough. The next step is to examine some of the workings of
cities at another level: the economic workings that produce
those lively streets and districts for city users.29
27 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 72.
28 Jacobs 99.
29 Jacobs 104.
THE PRINCIPLES OF URBAN PLACEMAKING
Urban placemaking principles will be assembled primarily from the works
of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, Christopher Alexander, William H. Whyte,
Camillo Sitte, Clare Cooper Marcus, and Allan Jacobs. Below is a list of
the five main principles derived from these works and used in this study to
measure the degree of urban placemaking the communities in each case
1. Mix of Uses: complementary land uses such as residential, office,
civic, light industrial and retail for a more active environment
throughout the entire day. Ground floor retail with office or
residential above provides more street level activity.
2. Compact Urban Design: features such as short blocks, narrow
streets, higher densities, narrow building frontages and contiguous
structures that address the street with little or no setback.
3. Pedestrian-oriented Design: elements, such as lighting, seating,
shade, transparent windows, appropriate scale, attractive
architecture and streetscape, and adequate barriers to automobile
traffic to insure safety and comfort of those on foot.
4. Vital Community Spaces: where people are free to interact, such as
plazas, pocket parks and cafes. These places should provide a
sense of enclosure, ample seating and a feeling of urban vitality.
5. Community Events and Interaction: occurrence of planned events,
such as a summer concert. Unplanned events, such as a street
performer, add to the richness of urban life and bring people
together for shared experiences.
There are number of present day planner authors that partially address
the concept of placemaking in their writings on TOD and other planning
topics, though it is often not central to their message. In their book on
transit villages, Bernick and Cervero write:
It is important to emphasize that transit villages are not just
physical entities. There are important social and economic
dimensions behind the transit village movement. Socially,
the hope is that transit villages will bring people from many
walks of life into daily face-to-face contact. Today's auto-
oriented suburbs have isolated people by age, class and
race -- the young from the old, the rich from the poor, whites
from blacks. Many upper-class suburbanites are confined to
their cars and security-controlled, walled-in subdivisions. By
creating an attractive built environment, complete with a civic
core and prominent transit node, people are more likely to
feel a sense of belonging and an attachment to the
30 Bernick, Michael and Robert Cervero. Transit Villages in the 21st
Century. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997: 6.
Calthorpe and Fulton, in their work on The Regional City discuss the
importance of establishing communities of place in American cities and
Just as important as the physical context, and a complement
to it, is the social, economic, and cutural networks that spring
up in a neighborhood setting. These are the networks of
daily life that produce what sociologists call "social capital.31
While these and other urban planners address some of the ideals of
"placemaking in their work, they draw heavily from the works and words
of earlier authors, such as Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte. The Project
for Public Spaces (PPS) has identified a list of those who have most
influenced the ideas behind what is now called "placemaking, and many
of these placemaking pioneers will be used as a basis for developing
some basic placemaking guidelines out of some consistent themes in their
There is an abundance of literature that helps to define placemaking from
a planning perspective and create a set of placemaking principles. This
literature review will focus on the five basic principles listed at the
beginning of this chapter, with the views of the placemaking authors
31 Calthorpe, Peter and William Fulton. The Regional City : Planning for
the End of Sprawl. Washington, DC : Island Press, 2001: 33.
represented for each of these principles. Chapter 3 will then demonstrate
to what degree these principles of placemaking relate to the expressed
wishes of the community for each of the three case studies.
Principle 1: Mix of Uses
The principle of establishing a mix of land uses is critical, as it lays the
foundation for urban placemaking to occur. By combining uses such as
retail, office, residential and, in some cases, light industrial, a mixed use
area invites a number of different activities to occur simultaneously and
within close proximity of one another.
This diversity of uses creates synergies and also brings a diversity of
activity that infuses the area with vitality throughout the day. With people
coming and going at different times and for different reasons, the mixed-
use area is seldom devoid of activity, which is essential for placemaking in
a healthy urban environment. The mix of uses should also be
complementary to one another to achieve the greatest synergy, such as
mixing offices with lunchtime eateries and convenience retail. Apartment
or condo units that serve as housing for those who work nearby only add
to the richness of activity.
Sometimes a mixed use district can mature to a point where it creates a
wealth of diversity within each use, and this vaults the area itself into
becoming an attraction. This gravitational pull can create new uses that
serve the popular mixed use district, such as the establishment of hotel
and convention space.
Figure 2.1 New York City Street Source: Authors photograph
Charles C. Bohl, an architect, planner and author of Place Making:
Developing Town Centers, Main Streets, and Urban Villages puts mixed
use development in a historic context. He writes that permanent structures
that had a vertical mix of uses go back to ancient Roman times and have
been around ever since, with many functioning as live/work situations
such as a shop on the main floor and the residence above.32
Jane Jacobs writes, A mixture of uses, if it is to be sufficiently complex to
sustain city safety, public contact and cross-use, needs an enormous
diversity of ingredients.33 She goes on to say that, A lively city scene is
lively largely by virtue of its enormous collection of small elements.34
This rich diversity of uses and businesses in an area is dependent on
people living above these businesses or in the immediate vicinity. A large
diversity of businesses needs a large number of people nearby to support
32 Bohl, Charles C. Place Making : Developing Town Centers. Main
Streets, and Urban Villages. Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute,
33 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 144.
34 Jacobs 148.
35 Jacobs 146.
From this diverse stew of residences, offices, shops, crafts people and
other uses, the result can be even more variety. Jacobs writes, The same
physical and economic conditions that generate diverse commerce are
intimately related to the production, or the presence, of other kinds of city
variety."36 This is what we commonly refer to as cosmopolitanism. In other
words, diversity tends to breed more diversity, which results in many
people of different ages and backgrounds using the same public spaces.
However, it is not enough to have a mix of uses if there is not a sufficient
network of mutual support that is built between the primary uses. In order
to create and sustain a diversity of uses, commercial activity and street life
must extend throughout the day. A business or a park cannot thrive unless
it can move beyond peak periods of use. Jacobs writes,
...when a primary use is combined, effectively, with another
that puts people on the street at different times, then the
effect can be economically stimulating: a fertile environment
for secondary diversity. Secondary diversity is a name for
the enterprises that grow in response to the presence of
primary uses, to serve the people the primary uses draw.37
36 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 148.
37 Jacobs 162.
This secondary diversity, if strong enough, can become a primary use and
an attraction in its own right. A shopping district such as Cherry Creek
North in Denver is one example of this effect of secondary diversity, with
hotels, restaurants, bars and other businesses moving in to serve the
primary retail, office and residential uses. If this spread of street use
spreads a variety of consumer needs or tastes through time of day, all
sorts of uniquely urban and specialized services and shops can make out,
and this is a process that builds upon itself.38
If a commercial area that is formed out of this variety of primary uses is
successful then it can become a primary use itself and be known as a
shopping district. This in turn can bring in tourists or residents outside the
immediate area.39 To continue with the example of Cherry Creek North in
Denver, this shopping district not only attracts residents in its immediate
vicinity, but also serves visitors from around the city, state and region.
Jane Jacobs also touts the need for aged buildings due to their role in
providing a mix of uses and types of businesses.
30 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 162.
39 Jacobs 163.
If you look about, you will see that only operations that are
well established, high-turnover, standardized or heavily
subsidized can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new
construction. Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go
into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign
restaurants and pawn shops go into older buildings.40
Allan Jacobs, the influential urban designer, does not spend a great deal
of time discussing the merits of what he terms diversity, but he does
recognize the mix of uses as a key ingredient to the success of urban
spaces. "Diverse uses enliven the area and the street, bring different
people for different purposes, help to keep it going."41
40 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York
Vintage Books, 1992: 188.
41 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
Jan Gehl, the architect and author, uses the term integration to describe
a mix of uses and activities. Integration implies that various activities and
categories of people are permitted to function together side by side.42
Gehl sees this mixing of uses and activities as necessary in creating vital
public spaces. Integration of various activities and functions in and
around public spaces allows the people involved to function together and
to stimulate and inspire one another.43 In his view, diversity of uses
provides more sensory interest and chances for casual contact because of
this mixing of activities.
Gehl advocates a model that avoids separating uses and activities unless
there is a compelling reason to do so, such as certain industrial uses that
would not blend with a social atmosphere44 However, most American
42 Gehl, Jan. Life Between Buildings : Using Public Space. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1987: 103.
43 Gehl 103.
44 Gehl 103.
cities currently employ a use-based land development code, which means
the separation of uses is codified. Because this policy of separating uses
has been in practice for decades around the country, a significant shift in
thinking within municipal organizations will be needed before Gehls policy
could be adopted.
In addition to a diverse mix of uses, diversity with each use type is also
essential, argues Christopher Alexander. A diversity of housing types in
neighborhoods is an important principle to follow if a diversity of people
and activities is to be achieved, according to Alexander. "Encourage
growth toward a mix of household types in every neighborhood, and every
cluster, so that one-person households, couples, families with children,
and group households are side by side."45
45 Alexander, Christopher, et al. A Pattern Language. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977: 190.
Principle 2: Compact Urban Design
Once the mix of land uses has been established, the next step is to
codify a compact urban form. In cities, placemaking is highly
dependent on a physical environment that allows urban vitality to
occur. While density is one factor in promoting a compact urban form,
it is the pattern of this density, that is, the fine grain of diverse activities
coupled with the fabric of the public realm, which determines whether
or not it is highly walkable.
A number of factors contribute to designing for compact urban form.
Short blocks allow more pathways between any two locations and
make for livelier streets with more corners and building frontages.
Buildings should address the street and not be set back from the public
right-of-way in order to provide a consistent street wall to frame the
street. The frontages should be narrow with deeper lots to shorten
walking distances for pedestrians. A reasonable ratio of building
heights to street widths (e.g. 1:3) should also be established in order to
provide a sense of enclosure for the pedestrian, as well as reduce the
distance for street crossings.
Regarding density, this important aspect of a compact urban form
should not be confused with overcrowding. Modern town homes,
condos and apartments are often spacious and offer a number of
amenities, which are nothing like the tenements of the 19th Century
that often give density a bad name. Density done correctly feels lively
without feeling overpopulated.
One of Jane Jacobs four conditions for exuberant diversity is the need
for short blocks, such as those found in Savannah and represented in
Figure 2.2. She says that short blocks are more pedestrian friendly
because they allow far more pathways throughout an area. This sets the
stage for more mixing of people and uses, creating the diversity needed
for economic and social success. Also note the numerous open spaces
woven into Savannahs grid and further stimulating pedestrian activity.
Figure 2.2 Short blocks Source: http://images.google.com/
Long blocks, by contrast, reduce the number of pathways and create a
large number of underused streets that lead to one or a few highly used
streets where peoples paths converge. The effect is a separation of uses
(which violates one of her other four conditions for vitality), with residential
mainly on the stagnant long blocks and an overly high concentration of
commercial on the street where the long blocks converge.46
Long blocks, in their nature, thwart the potential advantages
that cities offer to incubation, experimentation, and many
46 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 178-181.
small or special enterprises, in so far as these depend upon
drawing their customers or clients from among much larger
cross-sections of passing public. Long blocks also thwart the
principle that if city mixtures of use are to be more than a
fiction on maps, they must result in different people, bent on
different purposes, appearing at different times, but using the
same streets 47
Figure 2.3 Long blocks Source: http://images.google.com/
Density is another one of Jane Jacobs four conditions for vitality. A high
enough concentration of people living nearby is necessary to support the
many businesses and public spaces that create this urban vitality. She
47 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 183.
acknowledges that America is somewhat density averse, though she
argues that this is based on a common misperception.
One reason why low city densities conventionally have a
good name, unjustified by the facts, and any high city
densities have a bad name, equally unjustified, is that high
densities of dwellings and overcrowding of dwellings are
often confused. High densities mean large numbers of
dwellings per acre of land. Overcrowding means too many
people in a dwelling for the number of rooms it contains.4
Jacobs cites the North End in Boston, North Beach in San Francisco, and
Greenwich Village in New York as examples of very high-density
successful neighborhoods that serve as models for how to do density well.
The density in these areas is a per acre density, not a per dwelling unit
density, and this is an important distinction. She argues that it is a myth
that density is synonymous with poverty, as some of the most desirable
places to live, due to their urban vitality, are also very dense.48 49
48 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 205.
49 Jacobs 207.
Figure 2.4 Greenwich Village area Source: Authors Photo
Jacobs points out, Everybody hates overcrowding and those who must
endure it hate it worst. Almost nobody overcrowds by choice. But people
often do live in high-density neighborhoods by choice.50
While Jacobs says there is no exact formula for density that can be
followed, We ought to look at densities in much the same way as calories
50 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 208.
and vitamins. Right amounts are right amounts because of how they
perform. And what is right differs in specific instances.51
As if to summarize many of her thoughts on creating urban vitality and the
ingredients necessary for its inception, she writes,
The combination of these devices more numerous streets,
lively parks in lively places, and various non-residential uses
mingled in, together with great variations among the
dwellings themselves creates totally different effects from
grimly unrelieved high densities and high ground
Like Jane Jacobs, Charles C. Bohl recognizes Americans aversion to
density and points to a means that developers use to get around this term.
While the compact forms of town centers and urban villages
are touted for their potential to reduce automobile trips,
support transit, and help preserve open space, town center
projects are not marketed on the basis of their higher
density, a term that conjures up negative images in the
minds of many potential renters and homebuyers. Instead,
marketers focus on the attractiveness of town centers to
51 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 209.
52 Jacobs 218.
those who are looking for the benefits of in town lifestyles
and for the urban amenities they provide.53
Allan Jacobs also seems to agree with Jane Jacobs thoughts on density,
though he largely defers to policy makers on this topic. He says that
density is more of a policy issue than a design issue, but that density
makes it possible to have active, 24-hour streets. "It is difficult for streets
to help make community if there are not people to get to them easily:
Allan Jacobs addresses the need for accessibility of streets and public
spaces by emphasizing connectivity. This refers to pedestrian access in
the form of supportive street design, but it also extends to public transit
access. He writes,
Besides being places one can walk to, great streets seem to
be accessible by public transit, whether crossing them or
along them or under them. Accessibility is also a matter of
53 Bohl, Charles C. Place Making : Developing Town Centers, Main
Streets, and Urban Villages. Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute,
54 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
public access at places along the street, by intersecting or
crossing streets or public ways.55
Jan Gehl addresses density and compact city form in a historic context by
contrasting it with most current development practices that lead to sprawl
and lack a sense of place.
Conversely, people and activities can be assembled by
placing the individuals and buildings and functions so that
the system of public spaces is as compact as possible and
so that the distances for pedestrian traffic and sensory
experiences are as short as possible. This principle can be
found in nearly all pre-1930 areas and in a few recent
building projects. In its simplest and most well arranged form
it can be found also in small towns where all the buildings
are assembled around a square.56
This organizational principle can be traced throughout
history, from traditional tribal camps to contemporary
campsites. The buildings, entrances, tents, and so on are
55 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
56 Gehl, Jan. Life Between Buildings : Using Public Space. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1987: 87.
assembled around a public space and turn toward one
another like friends around a table.57 58
Connectivity and accessibility are also of concern to Gehl, and he sees
this as essential to urban design that creates a feeling of vitality.
Monolithic developments that are not properly connected to the
surrounding fabric and do not contain good pedestrian design within them
will be ineffective as urban places. "Large building projects need more
streets and squares with more differentiated structure that includes main
streets, side streets, and primary and secondary squares, such as are
found in old cities.50
Principle 3: Pedestrian-Oriented Design
After establishing a mixed-use area to create more varied activities, as
well as a compact urban form that establishes the shape of the urban
environment, the next urban placemaking principle to address is the
pedestrian-oriented design within this compact urban form. This includes
57 Gehl, Jan. Life Between Buildings : Using Public Space. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1987: 87-88.
58 Gehl 91.
all the features of an urban space that make it a more safe and attractive
place for pedestrians to traverse. Accessibility and connectivity is key to
fulfilling this principle if the TOD is to be a truly walkable environment. This
means pedestrian walkways within the urban district must be safe and
appealing, as well as those pathways that link the TOD with surrounding
neighborhoods. Aesthetic appeal is also important in attracting
pedestrians to a place, as good design is more noticeable at walking
speeds. Balancing the needs of the pedestrian with the automobile is the
main challenge in fulfilling this principle.
Pedestrian-oriented design includes features such as detached sidewalks
that are separated from the street by a tree lawn. This enhances the
feeling of safety from traffic and adds beauty, shade and definition to the
public realm. Other elements of pedestrian-oriented design include street
furniture, such as benches, planters, trash receptacles and lampposts.
Decorative lampposts can offer both lighting for safety, as well as provide
definition for the street and enhance the overall aesthetics of the area.
Street parking can be used to both add more spaces for cars, as well as
provide an additional safety barrier for pedestrians from nearby vehicular
Buildings themselves should be mostly contiguous and address the street,
rather than set back from the public right-of-way. They should feature
visually interesting design elements and provide large and transparent
windows on the first floor for more eyes on the street. The main
entrances should be on the public street, and corner entrances should be
encouraged where they are possible.
Parking and traffic concerns may be exacerbated by adding the principles
of compact urban form and pedestrian-oriented design to the placemaking
equation. In fact, this may be the one negative byproduct of the
placemaking process. As a place becomes a popular destination for the
community, the tradeoff can often be added congestion. While there are
no easy answers to resolving the traffic and parking issues created by
vibrant urban neighborhoods, this can be mitigated somewhat by the easy
accessibility of mass transit within a TOD, as well as making the area
more accessible by foot and bicycle.
Monotony is one of the enemies of the pedestrian experience, according
to Jane Jacobs. She says the standard grid used by many American cities
is efficient but can be visually dull.
Therefore a good many city streets (not all) need visual
interruptions, cutting off the indefinite distant view and at the
same time visually heightening and celebrating intense
street use by giving it a hint of enclosure and entity.59
One way to counter the effects of streets without end is to introduce a view
terminus, or interruption, into the view plane of the pedestrian to give them
a sense of enclosure on the street. Just as it was recommended for public
plazas, enclosure on the street itself helps with feelings of security, identity
59 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 380.
There are ways to accomplish these visual interruptions, such as adding
new streets to the grid in some sections where there is a large distance
between blocks. This was accomplished with great success when
Rockefeller Plaza was created in the heart of Midtown Manhattans long
blocks. Jacobs writes, Straight endless streets can be interrupted and
the street itself divided around a square or plaza forming the interruption;
this square can be occupied by a building.60
60 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 382.
Figure 2.6 Rockefeller Plaza Source: Authors Photograph
Another way to bring visual interest to streets is through the use of
landmarks to attract people to an area and give the space a visual identity.
Landmarks can take on forms such as statues, fountains, a special
building or even a tree, but the point is that it should be something with
enough presence that it makes an impact on peoples memory.
Because commerce is so predominant in most city centers of
activity, an effective landmark in such a place usually needs
to be overtly uncommercial. People become deeply attached
to landmarks that occur in centers of activity and in this their
instincts about city order are correct.61
61 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 387.
Jacobs also recommends what she terms unification devices to enhance
the pedestrian experience. Appropriate scale and certain design elements
can be employed to create a sense of place on a street in her view.
Regarding scale, it is important that building frontages are not incongruous
with one another along the length of the street. Large frontages break up
the more desirable pedestrian pattern of numerous small frontages and
create dead spaces due to fewer entrances. On certain streets, any
disproportionately large occupant of street frontage is visually a street
disintegrator and desolator, although exactly the same kinds of uses, at
small scale, do no harm and are indeed an asset.62
Jacobs is more concerned with the form of the street than the actual uses
along a street, which runs counter to most current city zoning codes. As a
result, she places more emphasis on controlling building scale to achieve
the desired effect of attracting pedestrians than on regulating use, similar
to modern day proponents of form-based" codes.
Such streets need controls to defend them from the ruin that
completely permissive diversity might indeed bring them. But
the controls needed are not controls on kinds of uses. The
62 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 234.
controls needed are controls on the scale of street frontage
permitted to a use 63
Figure 2.7 Annapolis, Maryland Source: Authors Photograph
Regarding other methods to unify a space and help create feelings of
place, certain design tactics can be used on an area or street that lacks
consistency. One of the simplest such devices is trees along the stretch
to be unified, but trees planted close enough together to give a look of
63 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 235.
continuity when they are seen close up ...64 Jacobs also mentions the
use of design details such as colorful awnings or patterned street
pavements as other unifiers for a street.65
Allan Jacobs is a designer convinced that a set of principles must be
followed for a street to become a place. In his view, all of these principles
are required to achieve this result, not just a few.
Certain physical qualities are required for a great street. All
are required, not one or two. They are few in number and
appear to be simple, but that may be deceptive. Most are
directly related to social and economic criteria having to do
with building good cities: accessibility, bringing people
together, publicness, livability, safety, comfort, participation,
Jacobs is careful to qualify his assertions by stating that these
requirements apply to urban street design, not suburban or rural roads.67
64 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New
York: Vintage Books, 1992: 390.
65 Jacobs 390.
66 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
67 Jacobs, Allan B. 271.
He also says there are ranges for design requirements that can be used
but there are no exact measurements. There are infinite combinations of
details that can be used to create a great street68
The first of Jacobs requirements is that there are Places for People to
Walk with Some Leisure. In other words, people need to feel safe and
protected from vehicular traffic. He is not prescriptive here as far as the
method for going about establishing this feeling of safety. There are no
specific recommendations for tree lawns or parked cars to serve as
barriers for vehicular traffic along a street. He sums up this need for safety
The requirement for a great street that people be able to
walk easily and safely on it is, on its face, obvious and easy
to achieve. These qualities are not much to ask for on any
urban street, great or not, where there are people. Still, they
are often absent from many streets.69
"Physical Comfort is another necessity for a pedestrian street. Jacobs
discusses the importance of paying attention to climate, sun, shade and
wind when designing streets.
68 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
69 Jacobs 274.
The best streets are comfortable, at least as comfortable as
they can be in their settings. They offer warmth or sunlight
when it is cool and shade and coolness when it is hot. They
offer reasonable protection from the elements without trying
to avoid or negate the natural environment.70
Allan Jacobs also discusses the role of cars on a pedestrian street and
addresses the thorny issue of providing adequate parking. While he does
not offer a ready-made solution to the issue, he understands that it is
divisive when trying to balance the needs of the pedestrian with those of
Automobile parking is a pervasive issue. Prepare a plan for
an individual street or neighborhood, or for a central area,
and parking is certain to be a major subject -- a bone of
contention -- more time and energy consuming than
People with cars want to park as close to their destinations as possible,
and merchants want them to be able to as well, he says. The problem is
that parking lots and garages break up the continuity of the street and, if
located in the rear of buildings, they tend to pull activity off the street. It is
a problem that does not have an easy solution and Jacobs does not
attempt to resolve it. He does say that great streets are difficult to park on
but that parking can often be found on nearby streets and drivers can then
70 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
71 Jacobs 305.
walk to their destination. Parking issues seem to be a by-product of great
street design and victims of their own success. In his opinion, though,
great streets seem to do just fine without enough parking and people
On-street auto parking is permitted and provided for along
many of the best streets, far more than where there is none,
but almost certainly in amounts that are far below demand or
what any contemporary standard would require.72
Qualities that Engage the Eyes is another key aspect of successful
pedestrian streets in Jacobs view. By providing visual interest, it will
cause people to linger and set the stage for a space to become an active
place. The author states, "Achieving streets that prompt eye movement
does not seem to be difficult."73 For example, many different doors,
windows, a diversity of building frontages, trees, people, surface types,
complex building facades, signs, balconies, awnings and other features
can provide visual interest on a street.74
72 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
73 Jacobs 282.
74 Jacobs 282-285.
Figure 2.8 Newberry Street Source: http://images.google.com/
Another of Jacobs tenets in street design is "Transparency, which is just
a fancy way of saying that different spaces are visible to one another. The
most common example is a shop with large windows that look out onto the
street and let those on the street see into the shop. "The best streets have
about them a quality of transparency at their edges, where the public
realm of the street and the less public, often private realm of property and
buildings meet."75 Windows and doors are what we most often associate
with transparency, and they provide a transition zone between the public
street and the private space of a business or residence. This is a way for
people on either side of this transition to know what is happening on the
75 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
Jacobs also offers several Qualities that Contribute to his requirements
for good street design. Trees, in his view, often make the most sense as
far as return on investment. "Given a limited budget, the most effective
expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees."76 77
Trees provide shade, beauty, color, and barriers to vehicular traffic for
pedestrians. The choice as to which trees should be used is a local and
climatic decision, though deciduous trees are usually best because they
allow light in winter but provide needed shade in summer. Regarding
placement of trees along a street, "In practice, the most effective tree
spacing is from 15 to 25 feet apart."78 This advice assumes that the trees
will be properly planted and maintained, which is not always a given.
Another key contributor to an attractive and inviting street is having "Many
and Diverse Buildings along it. This variety of buildings along with a mix
of uses will in turn attract a mix of people going to different destinations
76 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
77 Jacobs 193.
78 Jacobs 294.
from around the community.79 As Jane Jacobs also advised, diversity
brings still more diversity and makes for a livelier atmosphere.
Another advantage of diversity, according to Allan Jacobs is that, "With
more buildings and owners, change is more likely to come incrementally
rather than all at once, and that, too, adds visual interest as well as a
sense of continuity."80
Design Details are Jacobs third contributing factor to effective
pedestrian streets. "Details contribute mightily to the best streets: gates,
fountains, benches, kiosks, paving, lights, signs, and canopies can all be
important, at times crucially so."81 He mentions streetlights as a specific
example of why we should think about the details when seeking to design
a public place. "The best streetlights are well designed in and of
themselves and, simple or ornate, they give enjoyment."82 He says they
also help to define the street with regular spacing along its length, as Jane
Jacobs also argued.
79 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
80 Jacobs 297.
81 Jacobs 298.
82 Jacobs 299.
Alexander makes many of the same points about effective pedestrian
street design as the preceding authors. He emphasizes the importance of
numerous entrances to create activity on the street. "Arrange buildings so
that they form pedestrian streets with many entrances and open stairs
directly from the upper storys to the street, so that even movement
between rooms is outdoors, not just movement between buildings."83 He
argues that building fronts should address the street and not be setback.
This is a legacy from early 20th century concerns about light and air in the
era of tenement housing. The social space of streets is far too important to
be lost to setbacks.
On no account allow set-backs between streets or paths or
public open land and the buildings which front on them. The
setbacks do nothing valuable and almost always destroy the
value of the open areas between the buildings.84
Alexander also speaks admiringly of the countries in Latin America and
83 Alexander, Christopher, et al. A Pattern Language. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977: 490.
84 Alexander 490.
southern Europe that have the tradition of the promenade where people
stroll, interact or just watch each other. The promenades generally feature
a number of destinations along the active pathway, which is within easy
walking distance of nearby residences.
Their potential will depend on the extent to which it is
possible to make provisions for people to stay: widening of
pedestrian paths, planting of trees, walls to lean against,
stairs and benches and niches for sitting, opening of street
fronts to provide sidewalk cafes, or displays of activities or
goods where people might like to linger.85
Alexander also argues for the importance of connectivity, both within the
85 Alexander, Christopher, et al. A Pattern Language. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977: 172-173.
site area as well as connections to its surrounding areas. He says that
shopping streets depend on access for both pedestrians and cars to be
successful, but it is important to set up these shopping streets to
accommodate all modes of transportation. Good pedestrian access from
surrounding areas is needed but also must adequately accommodate the
To be convenient for traffic, and convenient for people
walking, and connected to the fabric of the surrounding town,
the shops must be arranged along a street, itself pedestrian,
but opening off a major traffic artery, perhaps two, with
parking behind, or underneath, to keep the cars from
isolating the shops from surrounding areas.86
On the relationship of street design to transportation access, Alexander
gives us several principles in regard to land use and its important
association with public transportation networks.
At every interchange in the web of transportation follow
1. Surround the interchange with workplaces and housing
types, which specially need public transportation.
2. Keep the interior of the interchange continuous with the
exterior pedestrian network, and maintain this continuity
by building in small shops and kiosks and by keeping
parking to one side.
3. Keep the transfer distance between different modes of
transport down to 300 feet wherever possible, with an
86 Alexander, Christopher, et al. A Pattern Language. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977: 176.
absolute maximum of 600 feet.87
Regarding pedestrian connectivity to public open space, such as plazas
and pocket parks, he stresses that public greens must be easily
accessible in order to be used, and that means smaller but more
numerous park areas, much like the City of Savannah.
Build one open public green within three minutes' walk -
about 750 feet -- of every house and workplace. This means
that the greens need to be uniformly scattered at 1500-foot
intervals, throughout the city. Make the greens at least 150
feet across, and at least 60,000 square feet in area.88
Charles C. Bohl
Bohl understands that the design of any pedestrian friendly street requires
some degree of accommodation for the automobile. Both providing access
to the pedestrian area as well as parking will be issues, just as Allan
Jacobs and Christopher Alexander acknowledged. Like them, Bohl knows
there are no easy solutions, but wants to prepare us all for the debate
between the competing demands of cars and their drivers, who become
pedestrians once they exit their automobiles.
87 Alexander, Christopher, et al. A Pattern Language. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977: 185.
88 Alexander 309.
But while suburbanites are attracted by main streets and
town centers, they also demand convenient automobile
access. Similarly, the offices, retail businesses, and service
establishments that might occupy main street and town
center developments often have "suburban expectations"
that are inconsistent with the format of a traditional town
center. Thus, developers, planners, and urban designers are
faced with the challenge of reinventing traditional town
centers in ways that can serve suburban populations.89
Gehl offers principles of pedestrian design, with particular attention to
building and lot types to create greater vitality. Big buildings with long
facades, few entrances, and few visitors mean an effective dispersal of
events. The principle, in contrast, should be narrow units and many
Narrow frontages are more pedestrian friendly also because one does not
have to walk as far to each entrance location. This is true of residential
row houses as well as shop fronts. Using the principle of narrow, deep
89 Bohl, Charles C. Place Making : Developing Town Centers. Main
Streets, and Urban Villages. Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute,
90 Gehl, Jan. Life Between Buildings : Using Public Space. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1987: 97.
lots along with the careful use of frontage space avoids the problems of
holes and left-over-areas wherever buildings face sidewalks and
Gehl also talks about the importance of transitional zones in residential
areas, such as row houses, so that the indoor areas can flow naturally to
the outdoors. The use of semi-private front porches, narrow frontages and
small front yards close to the sidewalks can help stimulate this flow, as
well as stimulate casual contact with neighbors and passersby.92
Principle 4: Vital Community Spaces
Now the stage is set for a finer grained look at urban placemaking, and the
focus can shift from purely physical design to how people use these urban
spaces. If the first three urban placemaking principles have been followed,
there is now a rich mix of uses in the TOD, along with a compact urban
form that creates a walkable pattern of development. Pedestrian-oriented
91 Gehl, Jan. Life Between Buildings : Using Public Space. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1987: 97.
92 Gehl 191-194.
design has insured that those on foot and traveling by bicycle feel safe
and are well connected to the TOD from surrounding neighborhoods.
While it may appear that the planning process is complete, there is still
much to be addressed if the TOD is to become a place that is important to
the community. By now involving those who live and do business in the
surrounding area, insight will be gained as to how to transform the TOD
into a place that serves their particular needs and thereby improves its
chances of market success. This public process is an important part of
placemaking. No one knows the issues and desires of the community
better than the community itself.
Community spaces are the living rooms of the urban environment. A well-
designed community space can foster conversation and interaction, as
well as provide a comfortable environment in which to pause and relax.
These spaces can be public plazas, pedestrian malls, courtyards between
buildings, or even just a well-placed coffee shop where the entire
community is welcome. Since these are the spaces that constitute the
public living rooms of a community, it is important to design and furnish
them in such a way that the community feels at home. There are a
number of ideas that inform this principle, but the particular choices are
best provided by the community itself.
Public urban spaces are the streets, squares and parks that serve as
urban open space and the areas where urban vitality can be fully realized.
The lines between these different categories of public urban spaces can
be blurry. As Bernard Rudofsky writes in Streets for People,
It is not always easy to draw the line between street and
square. The distinction is arbitrary and has little to do with
size or shape. To wit, the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is
much wider than Piazza Navona, which in turn is much
longer than many streets. Before the time of the
Renaissance with its insistence on geometry, squares were
anything but square; many a piazza was but a light swelling
in one of the town's arteries.95
Parks can be large, such as Central Park in Manhattan, or small
landscaped parks, often known as pocket parks, that are tucked into the
urban fabric. Squares are also known as plazas and piazzas, and are
often not even square in shape. Squares are typically hardscaped as
opposed to "landscaped, meaning there is generally more pavement than
areas of grass. However defined, though, the importance of this principle 93 *
93 Rudofsky, Bernard. Streets for People. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,
of placemaking is to get the design of public urban spaces right if a given
urban space" is ever to become a place.
Jane Jacobs cautions that parks are not successful just because people
seem to desire open space in general in a city. She argues that it is the
quality and location of a park, plaza or open space that determines its
usefulness and popularity.
Figure 2.10 Central Park, NYC Source: Authors Photo
She laments that, In orthodox city planning, neighborhood open spaces
are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion, much as savages
venerate magical fetishes.94 Further indicating that more thought is
needed by planners, designers and others involved in land development
she writes, that ...people do not use city open space just because it is
there and because city planners or designers wish they would.95
Jacobs does say, however, that there are some basic principles that
planners and others can use when designing neighborhood open spaces.
... it is possible to generalize about a few basic principles
that deeply affect virtually all neighborhood parks. Moreover,
understanding these principles helps somewhat in
understanding influences working on city parks of all kinds -
from little outdoor lobbies which serve as enlargements of
the street, to large parks with major metropolitan attractions
like zoos, lakes, woods, museums.96
She argues that any planning of parks must consider the context of the
surrounding neighborhood. There is a symbiotic relationship between a
neighborhood and its park, and if this is not recognized the park will not
94 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 90.
95 Jacobs 90.
96 Jacobs 90-91.
Too much is expected of city parks. Far from transforming
any essential quality in their surroundings, far from
automatically uplifting their neighborhoods, neighborhood
parks themselves are directly and drastically affected by the
way the neighborhood acts upon them.97
Jacobs describes Rittenhouse Square, a successful park in Philadelphia,
as being surrounded by a variety of uses such as apartments, shops, a
library and offices. This successful mixture of uses in the surrounding area
is one of the reasons the park itself is successful, for it leads to near
constant activity. She writes,
This mixture of uses of buildings directly produces for the
park a mixture of users who enter and leave the park at
different times. They use the park at different times from one
another because their daily schedules differ. The park thus
possesses an intricate sequence of uses and users.98
97 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 95.
98 Jacobs 96.
Figure 2.11 Rittenhouse Square Source: http://images.google.com/
Unsuccessful parks are characterized as having only a single surrounding
use, such as only office or only residential, because there is not enough
constant activity to support the parks use. These parks create a vacuum
that may be filled by the homeless, criminal elements and others chased
out of more active places.
The main idea is this: In cities, liveliness and variety attract more
liveliness; deadness and monotony repel life. And this is a principle vital
not only to the ways cities behave socially, but also to the ways they
behave economically.99 100
Some words of warning for those who do not stick to the principle of
surrounding neighborhood open space with a diverse mix of uses and,
instead, fall for persuasive arguments or attractive graphics, she states,
You can neither lie to a neighborhood park, nor reason with
it. Artists conceptions and persuasive renderings can put
pictures of life into proposed neighborhood parks or park
malls, and verbal rationalizations can conjure up users who
ought to appreciate them, but in real life only diverse
surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural,
continuing flow of life and use. Superficial architectural
variety may look like diversity, but only a genuine content of
economic and social diversity, resulting in people with
different schedules, has meaning to the park and the power
to confer the boon of life upon it. 00
For the design of the parks themselves, Jacobs has given us four general
rules to follow that are commonly present in well-used urban open spaces.
These four elements for successful parks are intricacy, centering, sun and
99 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 99.
100 Jacobs 101.
1. Intricacy is all the reasons people come to a park in the
first place. The uses and activities. If its not visually
interesting it wont attract a variety of uses and people
wont frequent it.
2. Centering: Good small parks have a place somewhere
within them commonly understood to be the center at
the very least a main crossroads and pausing point, a
3. Sun, as well as available shade in summer
4. Enclosure: The presence of buildings around a park is
important in design. They enclose it. They make a
definite shape out of the space, so that it appears as an
important event in the city scene, a positive feature,
rather than a no-account leftover.101
101 Jacobs, Jane. The Life and Death of Great American Cities. New York:
Vintage Books, 1992: 103-106.
Camillo Sitte, the nineteenth century Austrian architect and planner, was a
student of the public square who wrote mainly of medieval and
renaissance era plazas. While this may not seem directly applicable to the
modern world, there is much to be learned from the visual composition of
these earlier public spaces.
The author also speaks of squares in the context of the ancient Greek and
Roman forums, saying that a square should be surrounded on all sides by
buildings. The Roman forum allowed thoroughfares to open only sparingly
so the sense of spatial enclosure is not disturbed. The center should be
left largely open. Sitte says that it is this sense of enclosure that is needed
for people to feel secure and comfortable in their environment.
Asserting the same concerns for surrounding context and the need for
vitality as Jane Jacobs, Sitte writes that, "...in the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance there still existed a vital and functional use of the town
square for community life and also, in connection with this, a rapport
between square and surrounding public buildings."102
Sitte writes that fountains and statues in historic plazas are almost never
found in the geometric center of the plaza because they paid attention to
travel routes through the plaza and placed monuments, fountains etc.
outside these pathways where they most make sense, such as beside the
thoroughfare instead of in the middle of it. There was not a rigid geometry
to the design, but a more practical layout.
Figure 2.12 Piazza San Marco Source: Authors Photo
102 Collins, George R. Camillo Sitte: The Birth of Modern City Planning.
New York: Rizzoli, 1986: 154.
Sitte has a number of observations of historically successful squares that
can be used to influence more modern plaza design. Though much has
changed since these public spaces were built, as far as technology,
lifestyles and the advent of the private automobile, the sense of human
scale has remained constant. It is this human or pedestrian perspective
that is timeless and useful for this discussion.
Sitte writes of the need to balance the foreground elements in a plaza with
the dominant fagade in the background to maximize the view. Monumental
buildings should be attached to other nearby buildings or placed at one
end of the plaza so that there is a theater-like space from which to view
the facade as the backdrop to a stage. The center of the square should
remain free of obstructions. The more modern tendency is to isolate
buildings from their surroundings to try and make them seem more
monumental with space all around them. Older monuments, Sitte says,
were designed to integrate with their surroundings.
Figure 2.13 Piazza San Marco Source: Authors Photograph
Regarding the principle of enclosure, Sitte references the ancient,
medieval and renaissance eras when plazas were created through a
variety of means in order to achieve a sense of enclosure. One of the
main elements of enclosure is the location of entrances and exits in the
plaza, and the most effective means is a turbine blade approach (like a
fan) that staggers streets so that at any one time there is only one view
out of the plaza. Streets in these plazas were not aloud to intersect at right
angles (like in an American town square) to reduce the effect of openings.
This enhances the sense of enclosure. "The whole secret consists in the
fact that entering streets are laid out at an angle to our lines of sight
instead of parallel to them.
Figure 2.14 Siena Piazza
Source: Authors Photograph
Sitte argues that the size of the plazas should be in proportion to the size
of the building dominating each plaza. "Consequently, in deep plazas the
height of the church facade is related to the long dimension of the plaza;
while in broad plazas the height of the palace or town hall is to vary with
the width of the plaza."103 104
103 Collins, George R. Camillo Sitte: The Birth of Modern City Planning.
New York: Rizzoli, 1986: 172.
104 Collins 185.
Figure 2.15 Piazza in Rome Source: Authors Photograph
In identifying what not to do, he says square plazas are rare and do not
look very good. Squares that are too large diminish the buildings around it.
Wide roads leading into plazas break down the sense of enclosure and
require the square to be larger, though this is difficult to avoid in the age of
the automobile. Irregular plazas, however, enhance naturalness,
stimulate interest, and create a picturesque quality.
Regarding streets Sitte asserts that, "The ideal street must form a
completely closed unit! The more one's impressions are confined within it,
the more perfect will be its tableau: one feels at ease within a space where
the gaze cannot be lost in infinity.
Though much has changed since the ancient and renaissance eras, as
well as since Sittes own time period, he writes,
One must not overlook the fact that purely artistic
considerations often guided the builders of the cities of the
past. When there was no reason to insert such a curve into
the trajectory of a street, they understood how to interrupt an
infinite perspective vista by displacing the axis or by
breaking it. That was particularly necessary when the artery
had no culminating point.105 106
The designers of these cities wanted to interrupt lengthy perspectives and
used a view terminus to do this. "In thus avoiding the inordinate length of
arteries, they also prevented the wind from sweeping the ground and
raising dust, as it can do in straight streets where it encounters no
Sitte laments the fact that we no longer create towns in an artistic manner,
but admits that modern advances have also been beneficial to human
105 Collins, George R. Camillo Sitte: The Birth of Modern City Planning.
New York: Rizzoli, 1986: 199.
106 Collins 201.
107 Collins 202.
health and safety. We have given up urban artistry and ornamentation for
a more regimented modern life and we cannot return to the past. He says:
"Modern living as well as modern building techniques no longer permit the
faithful imitation of old townscapes, a fact which we cannot overlook
without falling prey to barren fantasies."108
But he also says we should at least try to incorporate some of these
elements into modern conditions. He talks about city design being a kind
of art that is available to all citizens regardless of income, education and
other factors of class. "It is therefore desirable to demonstrate how far it
might be possible to harmonize the principles of the Ancients with our
Allan Jacobs is another that addresses the need for quality open spaces in
the urban environment that serve as pockets of pedestrian vitality. He
writes, "Somewhere along the path of a fine street, particularly if it is long,
108 Collins, George R. Camillo Sitte: The Birth of Modern City Planning.
New York: Rizzoli, 1986: 249.
109 Collins 254.
there is likely to be a break. More than just intersections, breaks are small
plazas or parks, widenings, or open spaces."110
Like Sitte, Allan Jacobs places emphasis on the principle of enclosure,
what he terms definition," in these urban spaces.
Great Streets have definition. They have boundaries, usually
walls of some sort or another, that communicate clearly
where the edges of the street are, that set the street apart,
that keep the eyes on and in the street, that make it a
Attention must be paid to both vertical and horizontal enclosure in order to
achieve the desired feelings of security and definition in these streets and
squares. "Streets are defined in two ways: vertically, which has to do with
height of buildings or walls or trees along a street; and horizontally, which
has most to do with the length of and spacing between whatever is doing
Jacobs chronicles the debate regarding ideas on height to width ratios
110 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
111 Jacobs 277.
112 Jacobs 277.
used for street definition that provide a human scale environment, though
he never fully enters the fray. He does say, however, that a minimum ratio
of 1:4 is needed and that any less than this and people no longer feel as if
they are in a defined space. This means that, at minimum, the street width
should be no less than four times the height of the surrounding buildings if
a sense of enclosure is to be achieved. For those streets that are too wide
for the building heights surrounding it, such as on the Champs-Elysees, he
advises that trees can be used to provide the vertical dimension and help
create that definition. In addition, tight spacing between buildings along
the street helps provide definition. Though a 1:4 ratio is his lower limit for
achieving enclosure, Jacobs says there may be no upper limit on this
ratio. He cites very narrow but successful streets in Rome as an example
113 Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993:
Figure 2.16 Street in Siena Source: Authors Photograph
William H. Whyte
Perhaps the most in depth study of how people use urban spaces is
William H. Whytes study of New York City plazas. The author analyzes
the use of a variety of public places in the city for how humans behave in
these spaces. Using film and photography, the author gathered data on
where people sat, what they did in those spaces, how long they stayed,
and then tested for a variety of different factors that influenced this
behavior. The motivation for the study was to find out what public places
were successful and why.
Some of the findings were that the success of public spaces depends on
some common themes: the amount and quality of sittable space; that
people attract still other people; that movable chairs are preferable to
stationary chairs; that natural light is important; that water, trees and views
are attractive features; food and street performers add to activity; and that
a close relationship with the street is important in pulling people into a
space. This study contains a number of lessons for planners in making
sure urban design fulfills the policy goals of activating public places.
Most of the people using the plazas turned out to be nearby office
workers, meaning they discovered the space only as a result of
employment in the area. Whytes point is that well-designed spaces will
attract users who may not have even known to seek out such a space but
found themselves drawn to it.
The uncomplicated demography underscores an elemental
point about good urban spaces: supply creates demand. A
good new space builds a new constituency. It stimulates
people into new habits -- al fresco lunches and provides
new paths to and from work, new places to pause. It does all
this very quickly.114
Whyte reported a number of observations regarding the most successful
plazas, and it is instructive to review them as conditions to strive for and
principles to follow in plaza design.
Figure 2.17 Bryant Park, NYC Source: http://images.google.com/
He says, "The best-used plazas are sociable places, with a higher
proportion of couples than you find in less-used places, more people in
groups, more people meeting people, or exchanging goodbyes."114 115 Whyte
argues that this is an indicator of selectivity because people often arrange
ahead of time where to meet. However, he states, "What attracts people
114 Whyte, William H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.
Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980: 16.
115 Whyte 17.
most, it would appear, is other people.
To illustrate his observation that people attract other people, he says that
conversations tend to happen most in the middle of the greatest
pedestrian activity, and that people often sit on steps that have a lot of
pedestrian activity. "They also show an inclination to station themselves
near objects, such as a flagpole or a statue. They like well-defined places,
such as steps, or the border of a pool. What they rarely choose is the
middle of a large space."116 117
In describing other characteristics of successful plazas studied, the author
states, "With few exceptions, they were on major avenues and usually
occupied a block front. They were close to bus stops and subway stations
and had strong pedestrian flows on the sidewalks beside them." Factors
such as available sun, plaza shape, amount of space, great design and
other factors turned out not to be the prime reason for plaza popularity,
however. The author says, "My personal feeling is that a sense of
enclosure contributes to the enjoyment of the Seagram plaza. But I
116 Whyte, William H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington,
D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980: 19.
117 Whyte 21-22.
certainly can't prove this with figures."118
The biggest factor in the success of urban plazas may be surprising,
though it hardly seems revolutionary. It turned out that sitting space was
the most important determinant of the success of a plaza. Though this
may not seem earth shattering, humans are known to overlook the
obvious on occasion. Whyte observed that,"... the most popular plazas
tend to have considerably more sitting space than the less well-used
ones."118 119 The overall finding can be succinctly summarized: "People tend
to sit where there are places to sit." Success was not determined by use of
expensive materials or designs, but by following the simple principle of
providing plenty of seating in a plaza. "The most attractive fountains, the
most striking designs, cannot induce people to come and sit if there is no
place to sit."120
118 Whyte, William H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington,
D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980: 26.
119 Whyte 27.
120 Whyte 28.
Figure 2.18 Washington Square, NYC Source: Authors Photograph
Whyte has abundant advice for those designers and communities looking
to develop or improve a public space on the topic of seating, the most
important factor in the success of public places. He says that sitting should
be physically comfortable, but the most important factor is social comfort,
which means plenty of seating choices so that people can sit in groups,
alone, in the sun, shade etc.
Choice should be built into the basic design. Even though
benches and chairs can be added, the best course is to
maximize the stability of inherent features. This means
making ledges so they are sittable, or making other flat
surfaces do double duty as table tops or seats. There are
almost always such opportunities.121
121 Whyte, William H. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington,
D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980: 28.