Of Streets and Squares: Which public spaces do people want to be in and why?
Why are some streets and squares valued, yet others shunned? This comprehensive and readable guide from Create Streets provides useful guidance on spaces that people want to spend time in, and which they prefer to avoid. The guide is based on extensive research, including a review of nearly 19,000 streets and squares across six British cities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the ways in which people think about and use public spaces, with the importance of things like attractive and open greenspace becoming recognised as more vital than ever in promoting the wellbeing of local populations. Those responsible for designing and managing these spaces, however, might be facing challenges around how to ensure public spaces are both safe and attractive, to promote the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors, as people begin increasingly venturing outside again.
This comprehensive and readable guide, compiled by Maddalena Lovene, Nicholas Boys Smith, and Chanuki Illushka Seresinhe - which also comes with a handy 2-page summary document - provides useful guidance as to which squares and streets people want to spend time in, and which they prefer to avoid.
Read the 2-page summary
Based on extensive research, including a review of nearly 19,000 streets and squares in six British cities (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Canterbury, and Cambridge), the authors explore questions such as: What turns a space that is public into a public space? Why do people tend to prefer some places rather than others? And why are some streets and squares valued, yet others shunned?
Although the resource was published before the current pandemic, it contains some useful insights into planning, designing and managing safe and attractive public spaces for the current situation and also as places begin to recover and transform in the future, as summarised below.
Key findings - relevant for COVID-19 recovery
The COVID-19 crisis has further emphasised the importance of accessible and attractive greenspace to enhancing people’s wellbeing. This research also finds that people enjoy being in green public spaces, and that incorporating green little and often can improve people’s physical health, mental health and wellbeing. The authors advise that 5 -15% of land should be public greenspace, with greenery regularly interweaved into streets and squares rather than dense vegetation, which can lead to fear and perceptions of crime.
We are seeing many places gearing themselves up for more walkers and cyclers in the pandemic climate, with evidence of tactical urbanism being implemented around the world to achieve this. The guide outlines the importance of wide pavements, regularly spaced trees, and the presence of resting places (e.g. well-maintained benches) in the design of walkable places. The authors suggest that 6 -10% of squares should be seating. It also finds that people feel safer in streets where traffic is reduced, which enhances social connectivity.
Mix it up!
Echoing IPM research into the significance of multifunctional centres, the research finds that people prefer spaces which are geared around multiple uses for a diverse range of users. The guide suggests places are more engaging when there is a textured mix of different land use, with 60% of people preferring to live in a mixed use neighbourhood. Multifunctional places are also found to be more walkable, and to enable a place to be usable for more hours of the day, driving enhanced footfall into the centre around the clock.
Unique place identity
We have been witnessing the importance of local community in terms of improving place resilience in times of crisis. This guide similarly finds the most popular streets and squares have a unique identity and cultivate a local sense of place that couldn’t just be replicated ‘anywhere’. Streets and squares should, therefore, cultivate this sense of place distinctiveness. The report finds that protected buildings can improve place perceptions by 19%, further emphasising how public spaces should be beautiful, scenic, and possess local character.
Lovene, M, Boys Smith, N, and Seresinhe, C. (2019). “Of Streets and Squares: Which public spaces do people want to be in and why?” Accessible via: https://issuu.com/cadoganlondon/docs/of_streets_and_squares_26_march_wit?e=32457850/68741701
Lovene, M, Boys Smith, N, and Seresinhe, C. (2019). “Of Streets and Squares: 8-step guide to designing popular places”. Accessible via: http://www.createstreets.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/OSS_v4-1.pdf
 Millington, S, Ntounis, N, Parker, C, and Quin, S. (2015). “Multi-functional centres: a sustainable role for town and city centres”. Institute of Place Management Report. Accessible via: https://www.placemanagement.org/research/multifunctional-centres/