Design Details

Scope and Philosophy


Design Details

Urban Space Gallery

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The most important elements of a successful urban space is safety. An open space should be visible from outside.[1] This provides a sense of confidence for potential visitors, of "knowing where you are getting into." The greatest potential danger in a public space is isolation. William Whyte points out that the greatest deterrent to crime is an active and heavily used location.[2]

Another factor that increases safety at an open space is visibility into it from inside the buildings surrounding it. The Congress for the New Urbanism recommends improving safety by "lining streets with frequent windows and entries, and by offering porches, stoops, and other “semi-public” spaces... Building windows and entries should face these spaces for informal surveillance and a heightened sense of neighborhood..."[3]

The possibility of being observed at potentially any time of the day or night can be a significant deterrent for street crimes. This is what is called "natural surveillance which occurs where there is plenty of opportunity for people engaged in legitimate behavior to observe the space around them for their own safety and the protection of others." [4]


A critical factor in the success of some public spaces is seating facilities.[5] Somtimes informal seating facilities are best:

Large expanses of hard open space or row upon row of benches can seem intimidating and unwelcome when only a few people are present... So-called secondary seating- mound of grass, steps with a view, seating walls, and retaining walls that allow seating- can appear as part of the sculptural effect of the design and need not look lonely when devoid of people. [6]

Traditional park benches are an important seating component. Backrests and armrests improve comfort.[7] Wooden benches are best in that they do not get too hot in summer or too cold in winter. Movable chairs are ideal because of their flexibility in groupings.[8]  Theft and damage are obvious concerns, but some locations have almost constant public presence and in some cases chairs may be put away after the active hours. 

   Photo © Margarita Gavaldá Romagosa 

A number of structures provide reasonable Seating spaces. Ledges, planter edges and steps are common choices.

Bicycling Support

One factor that contributes to healthier urbanism, reducing automobile traffic, is the encouragement of the use of bicycles. This includes the designation of bike lanes, the provision of racks or "corrals" for users to secure their bikes, and a number of cities are developing bicycle sharing programs, some with corporate sponsorship. New York City, for example provides a bicycle sharing program which in 2013 included 330 stations and 4,300 bikes.[9]

Shelters, Kiosks, and Other Structures

Shelters or canopies are used to provide shading or rain cover for sections of an open space. In locations offering transportation connections, shelters can often be used for multiple purposes and they can be built in cooperation with the transportation entities. Kiosks are used to display information or for advertising. Lighting can be incorporated into shelters or kiosks.[10]

The architecture of all of these structures should be consistent with the over-all design of the place, and they can help in creating a mood or identity. Bike racks and trash containers are important functional components, and they should follow a consistent style. Their design and location can contribute significantly to the comfort and flavor of the public space.

Photo source: ©  Wikipedia:NYC City Bike, Author: Jim Henderson

Street Parking

There are mixed opinions about street parking. For example, the Oregon Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook recommends to "add on-street parking when possible. On-street parking slows traffic, creates better pedestrian environments by buffering sidewalks from moving vehicles, increases the viability of retail shops and services..." [11], while the Lakewood Transit Mixed Use Zone District Development [12] guideline is of the opinion that "Pedestrian interaction with parked vehicles should be minimized to the greatest extent possible with parking located behind buildings." Clearly, arguments can be made either way, and decisions need to consider the specific cases. Street parking may be more viable for the smaller developments such as Mizner Park. Obviously, angled street parking is more convenient than parallel parking, if the space is availble. Large surface parking lots increse distances and are not pedestrian friendly, but sometimes they are used on the edges of centers, or perhaps next to a large store or a movie theater.

Parking Structures

Parking strucutures are the most practical solution in most cases, but some  guidelines are concerned about the negative visul impact of parking buildings: Lakewood Parking Structure Design Guideline: "The ground floor of parking structures located adjacent to major public streets should include a use other than parking, such as retail or office... Parking can also be wrapped by development as a screening device." [13] The parking structure on the right has been designed to appear as an office building. It includes ground floor retail and restaurant space. Additionally, parked vehicles are screened from public view.

Entrances to parking buildings can create traffic jams: "To prevent conflict with street traffic, entrances should provide adequate reservoir space and should not be located close to intersections..." [14] and clear entrance signs, internal instructions, and exit directions to surrounding streets are important to facilitate flow.[15]


Trees should be an essential component of every urban environment. In addition to providing shading and shelter from the elements, trees cool street temperatures and they absorb noise and car emissions and other pollutants.[16] They also contribute to the beauty and sense of relaxation of the location.

Attention needs to be paid to the root needs of the trees. Placing trees in grassy areas is the easiest way to handle this, but grates and deep planters can also be used. Trees that shed fruit or excessive leaves need to be placed so that the litter does no present safety problems.  Planters located at building entries can enhance the sidewalk experience.



This website is not a professional guide, but an editing of existing referenced material for educational purposes. The website author assumes no responsibility for any problems resulting from using the material presented in this website.

[1] William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (Washington, DC: The Conservation Foundation, 1980), 58.

[2] Ibid., 63.

[3] Congress for the New Urbanism: Principles for Inner City Neighborhood Design, pages 9,11.

[4] Oregon Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, 9.

[5] William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, 28.

[6] Clare Cooper Marcus and Carolyn Francis eds. People Places (NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1998), 40.

[7] William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, 33.

[8] Mark C. Childs, Squares (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004), 34-37.

[9] NYC City Bike

[10] Harvey M. Rubenstein, Pedestrian Malls Streetscapes and Urban Spaces  (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992), 85-87

[11] Oregon Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, 24.

[12] City Of Lakewood, Transit Mixed Use Zone District Development Manual, 40.

[13] City Of Lakewood, Transit Mixed Use Zone District Development Manual, 25.

[14] Dean Schwanke et al, Mixed-Use Development Handbook, second edition (Washington DC: The Urban Land Institute, 2003), 214. 

[15] Ibid., 215.

[16] Dan Burden, Urban Street Trees