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General Organization

A public space needs to save a sense of identity. If it has an anchor such as a church or a museum, this may provide a substantial part of its identity, and the rest of the design would have to be arranged around this function. Ideal space framing that accentuates identity can be provided by historic buildings, which may present unique architectures or just historic memories. Plaques with descriptions of these structures are very desirable.   There are many places that do not have such a distinct function. Some offer a combination of stores or vendors, others include an important transportation connection.


Movie theaters and cultural facilities can provide independent anchors that reinforce other retail components such as restaurants.  Smaller or specialized museums are the most practical candidates for revitalizations, and may support  traffic time slots complementary to those of offices.[1] Major brand establishments or "big boxes" can often serve as commercial anchors that can attract or provide confidence for other businesses.

Mixed Use Organization

The Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, prepared as part of the Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program offers the following objective and itemized list of the principal benefits  for these developments:

Objective: Develop different types of compatible land uses close together in appropriate locations, to shorten trips and facilitate alternative modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycling and public transportation. Mixed-use development is appropriate in downtowns, neighborhood-oriented centers, transit nodes, main streets, and some community commercial centers. Locating stores, offices, residences, public services, and recreation spaces within walking distance of each other in these locations promotes:

Photo source: ©  Wikipedia:Normal Theater,
Author: Ivo Shandor

-Independence of movement, especially for the young and the elderly who can conveniently walk, cycle, or ride transit;

-Safety through around-the-clock presence of people;

-Reduction in auto use, especially for shorter trips;

-Support for those who work at home, through nearby services and amenities.[2]

Mixed-use developments are not for everyone, or perhaps not for every period of life, but when they fit, the benefits to the whole of society are undeniable, as outlined in the following statements, taken from research conducted for the Califormia South Bay Cities Council of Governments:

The more that housing, employment, and certain types of retail and service activities are located in close proximity to one another, the more likely nearby residents are to patronize their local area and the more likely they are to walk, rather than drive, for their daily errands... very few people who live in or near a mixed-use district will also work in that same district. But the presence of daytime employees probably nurtures a larger and more diversified base of businesses especially restaurants and retail businesses that residents can then use. Thus, there is likely a synergy between employees and residents in creating a customer base for local businesses.[3]


The desire for density forces the use of mixed-use buildings with at least two floors The most obvious organizatiion is to use retail at the first level and residences or offices at the higher levels. Ground level retailing maximizes its accesibility, but some developments have also included some retail at higher levels. "Restaurant and cinemas are often the most suitable tenants for second-floor space."[4]

Retail and Office Space Considerations

Retail is a very critical component in revitalizing urban spaces:

Retail space is usually located centrally for two reasons. First, an architecturally attractive retail center with a creative mix and positioning of tenants, especially restaurants, can serve as a stimulating amenity for all the other uses... Second, retail establishments thrive on pedestrian traffic, and one of the best ways to generate such traffic is to position and design the retail area so that pedestrian traffic can easily pass through the retail area the way to other destinations...[5]

Signage is a very important element of retail space The use of company logos as projecting signs reinforce branding as well as adding color:

"Projecting signs create better visibility for pedestrians on the sidewalk than other sign types... A wide variety of projecting signs should be encouraged along any building frontage to provide for visual interest... Awning signs should be encouraged for all retail spaces. Awning signs should be unique to each business or use."[6]

  Office space generally achieves among the highest rents per area of any type of real estate... It can also generate demand for other uses, such as hotel and retail facilities.[7]

Concessions and Vendors

The easiest way to create activity at a public space is with concessions, especially restaurants: "If you want to seed a place with activity, put out food."[8] Of course, well-known chains provide instant recognition, but the usually steady lunch clientele of a place often develops a strong loyalty for unique or homegrown establishments. In addition to food, bookstores and flower shops are a good fit for public spaces. The stores may be indoors or outdoors, but it is advantageous to mix styles: "Window-shopping storefronts and sidewalk cafes, of course, are a prime means of activating the critically important ground floor."[9] Outdoor cafes are a major draw, but they sometimes may obstruct walking paths. To address this, at Bethesda Row outdoor cafe seating has been right placed next to the road, so that pedestrians can traffic next to the stores.[10]

Street vendors in carts or stands can also be beneficial. Most cities have ordinances and permit regulations about street vendors. The most common vendors are for food items and flowers. Arts and crafts stands can also be an attraction.  Food items are often subject to health regulations.[11]

Pop-up Spaces

Several of the spaces discussed in this website can be classified as "pop-up" spaces. These spaces are normally experimental or temporary setups that can be used as part of a revitalization effort, specially because of their low-cost:

A pop-up retail space is a venue that is temporary: the space could be a sample sale one day and host a private cocktail party the next evening. The trend involves "popping up" one day, then disappearing anywhere from one day to several weeks later. These shops, while small and temporary, can build up interest by consumer exposure. Pop-up retail allows a company to create a unique environment that engages their customers and generates a feeling of relevance and interactivity.[12]

Transportation Connections

Transportation connections are often a key component of a revitailized urban space. The use of public transportation is an essential part of the "New Urbanism" movement that tries to make cities more livable. Effective public transportation support requires some regional planning steps:  

   -"Organize growth on a regional level to be compact and transit supportive.

    -Place commercial, housing, job parks, and civic uses within walking distance of transit stops.

   -Encourage infill and redevelopment along transit corridors within existing neighborhoods." [13]


Some very successful spaces operate with around the clock security and cleaning staff. Of course more modest arrangements are also possible. Any "anchor" that is part of the urban space, such as a public institution or a participating vendor should participate in the managment function. Some business employees or independent vendors may provide some on-site supervision, providing that they know how to quickly reach pertinent help.[14]

Responsible urban space managers must be aware of maintenance needs. Anything physical will wear out eventually, and the appearance of neglect will quickly doom a place. Landscaping must be trimmed regularly for safety, making sure that it does not provide unwanted hiding places.[15]


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] Dean Schwanke et al, Mixed-Use Development Handbook, second edition (Washington DC: The Urban Land Institute, 2003), 68. 

[2] Oregon Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, 5-6.

[3] California South Bay Cities Council of Governments, South Bay Cities Mixed-Use Guidebook, 8.

[4] Dean Schwanke et al, Mixed-Use Development Handbook, 190

[5] Ibid., 189.

[6] Ibid., 61-62.

[7] Ibid., 50-51.

[8] William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, 50.

[9] Mark C. Childs, Squares, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004), 133.

[10]F. Kaid Benfield et al, Solving Sprawl (New York City: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2001), 87-88.

[11] Project for Public Spaces, Managing downtown public spaces (Chicago: American Planning Association, 1984), 3,32.

[12] Wikipedia: Pop-up Retail

[13] Hank Dittmar et al "Introduction," in Hank Dittmar and Gloria Ohland, ed., The New Transit Town (Washington: Island Press, 2004), 7.

[14] Project for Public Spaces, Managing downtown public spaces (Chicago: American Planning Association, 1984), 3,32.

[15] University of Idaho Community Research: Public Plazas