7 Tips for Designing Great Public Spaces

Public spaces are all around us, we use them everyday. Whether it is the park we walk in, the street on the way to work, the playground our children play in, the quiet bench we find to sit at lunch time – all of these spaces are freely available to us, the public.


According to CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), well over half of the UK population (some 33 million people) make more than 2.5 billion visits to urban green spaces alone. In research carried out by CABE they found that 85% of people surveyed felt that the quality of a public space and the built environment has a direct impact on their lives and on the way they feel.

Benefits of public spaces

There are many benefits to creating well designed public spaces. An area that features a high quality public space can have the following impacts:
  • Increased health benefits
  • Increased well being
  • Access to space for children to play
  • Promote community feel and social inclusion
  • Create a venue for social events
  • Improve natural environment
  • Increased accessibility in pedestrianised areas
  • Positive impact on local business
  • Positive impact on property prices
  • Parks improve air quality
  • Trees can cool air and provide shade
  • Parks can allow nature and wildlife to thrive
Public spaces

Main Attributes of a High Quality Public Space:


  • Safety – catering and accommodating to all groups of people
  • Scale – a space designed for the human scale and senses
  • Healthy
  • Accessibility – a good public space should encourage pedestrians to spend time in the space, moving about and experiencing it.
  • Choice – public spaces should have a variety of activities to encourage social engagement between people
  • Identity – a public space should be part of the identity of it’s local character, reinforcing social cohesion
  • Healthy – public spaces should be clean and well maintained
Designing Public Spaces

Tips for designing public spaces


1. Ask the Community

Who is the space being designed for? Who has the most knowledge and perspective on the area. Consulting those who know the area and the people will help inform and direct the design to ensure critical issues are considered and meaningful spaces are created.


2. Make it Accessible

Plan for people. While we will always have to consider vehicles, we should also be putting people first. Give pedestrians and cyclists priority when designing spaces that include vehicles. Consider people of all abilities and make spaces that allow people to move through safely and easily.

Actually helping people find their way around is a key part of accessible design. Design suitable paths and wayfinding to improve connectivity of spaces.


3. Provide a variety of uses

Great public spaces can be used at different times of the day. By providing a space that blends commercial, residential and workplaces, it will attract people throughout the day and evening to make the place safer. With more people in the area, crime will be reduced, making the public space feel more secure.


4. Design good lighting

Make sure the lighting is designed to enhance safety at night. If it is a space for pedestrians and cyclists, ensure that they can navigate the space with ease when there is no natural light.


5. Consider local identity

Public spaces should be designed with the local neighbourhood in mind. Take into account the social dynamics and cultures of the area to ensure that you create a strong connection between the people and the place. Consider the existing buildings, streets, materials and views that make up the city and how the spaces you are designing can compliment and enhance them.


6. Go Green

Vegetation has many positive impacts and should be incorporated into our public spaces as much as possible. In denser cities, green spaces provide a welcome relief and increased wellbeing. Vegetation also contributes to air quality and eases high temperatures in summer.


7. Make it feel comfortable

If a public space is comfortable, presents well and has a good image, it will be more well received by its visitors/users. Comfort refers to aspects such as cleanliness, safety, places to sit and general user friendliness of the space.

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