Public spaces are the heart and soul of our cities. Of course, we need the shelter of our homes, spaces for ourselves. But humans are social beings, and cities are the physical form of the core human need of being together. Public spaces were the public arena where citizens’ discussed how to shape their joint future, the rules to live together, and how to trade and do business. Our plazas and streets have also always been places to unwind and relax.
Now that over half of the world’s population lives and works in urban areas, more than ever we need to rethink the way public space looks and performs. It may be the most contested space in our cities, as it must facilitate traffic, our desire to shop, hide complex infrastructures below ground, host the last bits of urban nature, be adaptive and resilient, and many other things. But how can public spaces be good to us, for our well-being?
At Humankind, we are convinced we should approach public spaces as truly human spaces, that cater for our own needs and desires, those of others, and as restorative places to heal our planet. Over the last year we have been researching an extensive amount of sources that can help us do so. It is not a problem of a lack of knowledge. Tons of data, extensive research, in-depth studies, inspiring lectures… Information in all formats has been published over the past decades hinting at what good public space can mean. We’ve gathered all that knowledge, processed the big words and the endless numbers and created a model to measure the goodness of public space.
The result is the Good Public Space Analysis. We called it like this so nobody will doubt about the quality of it. But seriously, it is ‘good’ because we know this is a subjective process. A public space that works in one city, does not necessarily make people happy in another. It all depends on the context, on the inner worlds of the people using it.
Even though it has not been an easy process, it definitely was interesting to be in our office over the last months. Every element, every indicator, every word have been debated by our team. In order to bring all these different disciplines in one model, it is essential to have a multidisciplinary team that dares to disagree in order to produce the best possible outcomes. Our team brought together the most relevant insights from urban planning, health and well-being, anthropology, communications, and governance to build the analytical framework. Because, paraphrasing Albert Einstein, “not everything that matters can be measured and not everything that can be measured matters”.
We are only at the beginning of our journey to provide our clients with the best practical tools that put citizens at the centre of the planning process. Our mission has been to create an approach to say something about the human quality of public spaces, to serve as a baseline measurement in any design process, and a starting point for creating better design principles to plan better places for people. In the near future we want to add and translate subjective data into data that can be shared with various stakeholders and departments.
Over the coming weeks we will publish a series of articles taking a closer look at our Good Public Space Analysis. We will go deeper into our future plans, the different indicators that sustain our model, and the results we have already produced. Stay tuned, and count on us for what truly matters.