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Stories of Good Public Space: #1 Talking

Let's face it, we all love catching up with friends—whether we're venting about a disastrous day or sharing some thrilling news. And guess what? There's solid science behind why these chit-chats make us feel so good!


A bunch of clever researchers, Ascigil and colleagues (2023), found that even the tiniest interactions, like saying "hello" or a quick "thanks," can give our health and well-being a nice little boost. So, next time you stop to chat, remember: it's not just small talk—it's a wellness workout!


<a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/full-shot-people-picnic_21927433.htm#fromView=search&page=1&position=14&uuid=92e739d7-5553-4289-b5db-65089b402fab">Image by freepik</a>

But why is it that some spots in the city are perfect for hanging out, while others just don't cut it? And what's the deal with our love for outdoor chats with friends? As you ponder these questions, you're probably already picturing your favourite hangout spots—maybe a bustling local square, a charming hidden park, or a scenic waterfront boulevard. I bet you know of a square or a park in your city where, on a lovely summer day, you can be sure to find many people sitting and chatting with their friends. But what makes this place such a good space for talking? And would you also see your grandma sitting there with her friends and enjoying the busy place as much as the youngsters do?


As city makers, how do we ensure that we create places that facilitate even the simplest activities so important to our well-being, like talking? And how do we ensure that we take everyone’s perspective into account? The idea that some of us would enjoy a vibrant and loud place more than others is not a revelation. We all know it. But during the design and decision-making process, we often forget to consider that public spaces should also create room for those simple activities and that everyone might express this

need differently.


With our Good Public Space method, we look at the space through those often-overlooked elements so central to our well-being and always try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to get as objective a picture as possible. With " talking" for example, we simply evaluate how well the design facilitates everyday conversations. Think about if the place allows you to stay; is there a bench or a piece of grass to put your blanket on? Can you actually talk with a low voice, or would you have to raise it? Is there nature to soothe the view and sounds? Are you able to escape the scorching heat or simply enjoy a well-maintained public space? Or even, is there something intriguing that would trigger you to have a conversation with a stranger?



For example, let’s take a look at the area around Heer Bokelweg in Rotterdam – currently a place with on-street parking just across De Hofbogen. Now we can do an exercise of imagination and re-design that space for the goal of  talking. How many possibilities pop up in your mind? Can it be a place where children scream and shout while having a blast at the playground with their friends! Or maybe a place where people working nearby go outside for a chat during their lunch break? Or maybe a place for the elderly to meet their friends and enjoy a quiet conversation? Or can it be a place for all of them?



The result of this exercise? You might realise that there's no one-size-fits-all public space.

But the idea is to experience a different way of thinking about public spaces and to explore the many design possibilities. This fresh perspective can spark new conversations and ensure we never again overlook those simple, crucial elements that boost our health and well-being— whether we're five or ninety-five. 


This post is the first of nine chapters where we dive into our approach to creating Good Public Space and explain the elements of our model. After imagining a public space designed for talking, let's switch gears.



If we say the word "relax," what elements come to mind? Perhaps a specific spot in the city that embodies relaxation for you?

Stay tuned to discover more about how public spaces can support activities that are vital for our health and well-being!



Marta Nosowicz – Urban Planning Specialist



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