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How can public space make our lives better?

The design and (re)organization of public space involves more and more tasks. It has to be climate adaptive, accessible, nature inclusive and preferably also a bit attractive. The fact that public space is primarily there to make us, the people, feel good and safe is sometimes forgotten. Humankind developed the Good Public Space Analysis, which provides insight into the quality of public space in which people are central.

The human scale is increasingly finding a place in our governments' policy documents. “A good thing”, thinks Jorn Wemmenhove, co-founder and creative strategist of Humankind. “People are complex beings. You'll have to work more holistically and therefore harder to gain more insight into the doings of people and how your public space is used."

A lawn is not a vegetable garden

Quite a lot is known about elements that humans find pleasing. "For example, it is good to be in contact with the elements. But take something like water. You can choose to build a living space along a canal. Even better would be if the water is approachable. The next step is to actually be able to jump in." In other words, water alone is not enough. The same goes for greenery. A lawn is not the same as a tree or a communal vegetable garden, even though it's all green. "It's not down to the imagination of the designers," Wemmenhove hastens to say. "They can think of anything. It's just not being asked."

The analysis of Wemmenhove and his colleagues combines data analysis, (behavioral) psychology and physical observation. "With this we look for the hidden qualities of a public space. By analyzing a location you create a common starting point in an interdisciplinary team. The design and management of public space is often still approached too technically, so it would be good to involve social departments. We recommend that to everyone."

Social function is vital

That a good public space is a subjective concept, Wemmenhove also knows. "We are trying to provoke a reaction with this. We go beyond the standard questions. If you ask a project manager 'what do you want', he might say 'fountain'. But what he actually means is water, commotion, perhaps a memory from his youth."

A good analysis alone won't get you there. The results of the research can be used to improve the (re)design. "But the social function of a location is ultimately essential. The encounter is important. Sometimes that needs some organization and that doesn't have to be just catering. In Istanbul, a public tea garden opened along the Bosphorus," he gives an example. "Everyone comes there and brings their own refreshments. It just needs to be cleaned from time to time."

Humankind's goal is to create good public spaces that are human-centered. "With the analysis, we can start the conversation based on good information, and not just on emotion. We also help our clients in translating these insights into design principles. We can only create a truly sustainable city if we invest in the well-being of everyone. The key to this lies in our public spaces."



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