Recreational Space - 25 'vital and viable' priorities

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. This resource introduces the 'Recreational Space' priority - why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

What are the 25 vital and viable priorities?

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability.

The framework was created by experts from a range of disciplines and other stakeholders to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge and broadening real-world understanding of the changing nature of the high street.

The 25 priorities are practically orientated and, given their ability to be controlled or influenced at a town level, are fairly internally focussed. For each of the priorities you will find an introduction to evidence that describes the priority, suggests what it covers, discusses how it might be implemented and the level of control associated with it.

Additionally, you will find suggestions of what the priority could mean for implementation during the COVID-19 recovery stage.

Recreational Space

Factors included in Recreational Space

Recreational areas; public space; open space


Recreational Space





23rd out of 25

3.60 out of 5



11th out of 25

3.49 out of 4

Potentially controllable

25 Priorities

18th out of 25


High priority



Recreational space refers to the amount and quality of recreational areas and public space/open space. It is important for workers and residents in the town/city centre as well as visitors. For example, it is important that centres also have places that are uncommodified where people can enjoy spending time without spending money. Oldenburg’s (1989) definition of public (and by extension, recreational) spaces highlights that town centres need to offer meeting and gathering places that are accessible by all members of the public, and which foster interaction and opportunities for contact and proximity (Francis, Giles-Corti, Wood, and Knuiman, 2012).

Why does it matter? (Influence)

Positive interactions with the physical setting of a place can lead to a sense of place attachment,
particularly when the local community becomes involved with its maintenance, for example of a
public park (Buta, Holland, and Kaplanidou, 2014). Furthermore, well-maintained recreational space
can also contribute to the perceived attractiveness of a place and create a place in which people can
build a sense of community (De Visscher, De Bouverne, and Verschelden, 2012). Indeed, it has been
found that customers tend to attach high value to places such as parks and greenspace during their
visits to centres, since they offer opportunities for relaxation and socialisation away from the core
shopping activity. Social activity, in turn, can result in more time and money being spent in the
centre, further illustrating the value of recreational space (Wrigley and Lambiri, 2015). Furthermore,
recreational spaces provide other important benefits to the community (health benefits, wellbeing,
aesthetics, social interaction), and also produce economic value for the town/city, by increasing the
quality of the landscape (scenic setting, recreational value, heritage) (Tappert, Klöti, and Drilling,
2018). The cost of creating and/or maintaining recreational spaces can potentially be
brought back by acquiring investment, increasing tourism, and attraction and/or expanding
local businesses.


What can you do about it? (Control)

Catering for citizens’ health, relaxation, and socialisation via the provision of recreational spaces means that town centres and their respective streets (core or peripheral) need to offer more than just a shopping experience. Indeed, centres need to offer a social experience “as people stop, gather or linger, especially in a form of passive sociability in which there is a shared interaction with passers-by” (Mehta 2007, 2013 in Jones, Al-Shaheen, and Dunse, 2016:497). It is essential that your centre can provide retail, leisure and recreational activities in an environment that creates a sensory pleasure (Mehta, 2013) through the development of different land and building uses. Consequently, the retail fabric of your centre may need to adapt to these changes, as old retail units and shopping centres may need to be repurposed and reconstructed as recreational hubs for the community (e.g. arts and cultural centres).

Furthermore, you may consider making more areas between buildings more usable, by creating pocket parks, sitting areas, or even activating existing public spaces, in order to facilitate citizens’ engagement in voluntary activities (having outdoor lunch, playing, sitting, lying), or being involved in cultural and commercial activities, such as using public space to sell goods and services, outdoor cafés, street vendors, busking, etc. (Gehl, 2008; Jones et al., 2016). Taking advantage of the centre’s unique physical characteristics (canals, rivers, greenery) and incorporating them more into the town centre experience can also be a viable strategy. Finally, improving access and creating linkages to existing recreational spaces in the town centre can also contribute to a more pleasant overall experience.

Recreational Space and COVID-19

The gradual easing of lockdown, and the use parks and open spaces will be accompanied with government guidance. It is important that park management forms part of the wider strategy for social distancing in your town. Open spaces are used regularly by those who wish to continue to practice social distancing and could therefore be appropriate for certain events focused on wellbeing. Risk assessments should be completed, and action taken to minimise harm (e.g. reconfiguration of seating, widening gates, implementation of one-way systems etc.). Consider whether central car parking could be given over to new public spaces to allow areas for people to move from crowded streets at times of peak capacity.


Safer Public Places has specific guidance for Parks. Parks will be a place of respite for those who are re-entering social life after a period of lockdown. They may also host outdoor meetings, exercise and meetups. Where they are expected to be busier than ever, park ‘rules’ should be reviewed and posted at entry points. Consider running events in parks that focus on nature, wellbeing and social connection, when allowed.


Public open space is the pride of the town centre, with use designed in rather than designed out. Spaces are car free, animated with performance and events, spots to sit and planting for shade in summer. Uses are planned for the seasons and different times of day. Open spaces are used as places of social connection, with wellbeing events, dating couples, walks, tai chi or special interest groups encouraged to meet there. Programming the space for events is coordinated, but the responsibility of the whole community rather than any one body, and revenue raised is used to improve the centre.

See also

Accessibility; Attractiveness; Experience; Necessities; Walking;


Buta, N., Holland, S. M., & Kaplanidou, K. (2014). ‘Local communities and protected areas: The mediating role of place attachment for pro-environmental civic engagement’. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, Vol. 5-6, April, pp. 1–10.

De Visscher, S., Bouverne-De Bie, M., & Verschelden, G. (2012). ‘Urban public space and the construction of social life: a social-pedagogical perspective’. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 31(1), pp. 97–110.

Francis, J., Giles-Corti, B., Wood, L., & Knuiman, M. (2012). ‘Creating sense of community: The role of public space’. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(4), pp. 401 – 409.

Gehl, J. (2008). World Class Streets: Remaking New York’s City Public Realm, New York City Council, New York.

Jones, C., Al-Shaheen, Q., & Dunse, N. (2016). ‘Anatomy of a successful high street shopping centre’. Journal of Urban Design, 21(4), pp. 495 – 511.

Mehta, V. (2007). ‘Lively Streets: Determining Environmental Characteristics to Support Social Behaviour’. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 27(2), pp. 165 – 187.

Mehta, V. (2013). The Street: A Quintessential Social Public Space. Abingdon: Routledge.

Oldenburg, R. (1989). The Great Good Place: Cafe´s, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You through the Day. New York: Paragon House.

Tappert, S., Klöti, T., & Drilling, M. (2018). ‘Contested urban green spaces in the compact city: The (re-)negotiation of urban gardening in Swiss cities’. Landscape and Urban Planning, 170, February, pp. 69–78.

Wrigley, N.& Lambiri, D. (2015). British High Streets: from Crisis to Recovery? A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. Southampton; 2015. Available from: