Throughout history, public spaces have been a significant part of urban life. In ancient times, public squares were the main spots for discussing town issues and practising democracy. With politics moving into the hands of monarchs and, later, into parliaments, the role of public spaces changed as well. They became places of social encounter, where friends ran into each other and where cultures mixed, building strong and diverse communities. They give identity to cities, making them distinctive and unique. Just think of Central Park in New York or Parc Güell in Barcelona - true landmarks of these cities.
To have a great public space means to have an accessible, comfortable and pleasant spot that encourages sociability and offers plenty of activities that will make it fun and special. Although it seems hard to cover all these aspects that make a great leisure space, some of them can be achieved rather easily. Some of the infrastructure that is already a part of these places can be improved to increase sociability and accessibility. A bench is a ubiquitous element of almost any public space. It is free and supports healthy everyday routines by enabling people to spend more time outside. Benches are spots where people meet, share stories and gain new experiences. But several things can be done to make them even better. They can be more comfortable and user-friendly, and a traditional two-seater bench is a thing of the past. Placing them in frequently used, visible spaces is important as people want to feel safe while hanging-out.
In their plan for 2012-2017, the Borough of Camden stated that one of its goals is to ensure Camden is a safe place for everyone by “reducing anti-social behaviour, which can slowly erode residents’ sense of safety’’. Having a social, active and engaging public space is amazingly beneficial, with links between leisure locations and mental health often emphasised. As Dr. Georgina Hosang pointed out at the Urban Design for Mental Health Conference: “To improve mental health we need to make our environment more social and promote social interaction in public spaces”. Cities, property development companies and architecture firms are beginning to work in the right direction, towards creating healthier, more social environments. Real estate company Goodman UK stated that: “...businesses aren’t just about the office space they reside in but also the vicinity that surrounds them. Community and environment are essential for employee productivity and wellbeing, and at Goodman we believe in fostering that community”.
Engaging a local community in improving public spaces in their neighborhood is always a good option. Installing outdoor libraries is a lovely way to do so. While promoting reading as a nice pastime, they can encourage people to share and contribute to a better community living space. These outdoor libraries are becoming places where people come to sit, read and spend some time on their own, as well as to meet friends and exchange ideas.
Projects for better public spaces aren’t limited to just improving the ones that already exist, but also to building new ones. Sometimes these opportunities can be found in the most unexpected places. Parklets are public seating platforms that convert former parking spots to unique places for people to enjoy. It is amazing how once dull locations can be given new life and purpose when people harness their creativity to create something that the whole community can enjoy. Aside from being of great use to locals, these charming installations promote healthy hobbies as their design can often include bike racks and seating. The very fact that they were once parking spots symbolises a change in the mind-set towards greener and healthier future cities.
Author: Nevenka Rangelov
Nevenka is a student of journalism and communications at Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade. She’s planning on pursuing a career in communications and marketing. Ever since attending educational program “Public Policy Academy’’, she’s had a lot of interest in entrepreneurship and start-ups. An important part of her life on faculty is her activity in the Students for Liberty organisation, where she’s in charge of creating creative content. She practises yoga and loves skiing.
Strawberry Smart Bench is easily installable and movable street furniture powered by solar energy, that offers charging for mobile devices, environmental sensing, free emergency call and local info in public spaces.