The Value of Public Space: Landscape as a Catalyst

In this day and age, public space is more valuable than ever.  As cities and towns become more urban and populations keep rising, people are losing a connection to nature and landscape.  It is now, more important than ever that people find time to take solace from their busy, hectic, and wired lives and take time to gather their thoughts and clear their minds.

As this short video describes, there are many scales, types, and opportunities of landscape interventions that cities can foster to help organize the greater spacial and social constructs of the urban fabric and growth of a city.

Beyond prized urban parks and marvelous outdoor pedestrian malls, many public realm areas in which we spend the most time have little to no design value to them and would not be considered public amenities. As notable landscape architect Martha Schwartz discusses in an interview by Yale Environment 360, “We’re talking about probably 95 percent of the urban environment. Most of our urban environments are not waterfronts and parks — they are our streets, our sidewalks, our utility corridors, parking lots. It’s everything outside the building. And yet there’s very little design to what they look like. Or even value that they look like anything. We don’t care about it. You go to parking lots outside of big box environments. You see a few trees in the parking lot. It’s a joke.” 


It is often these forgotten or underutilized spaces that can play an important role in reinvigorating a community, establishing connections, and positively affecting the environment. The Highline in New York City, a wildly successful large-scale landscape architecture project, is a perfect example of  landscape interventions effectively connecting the city and providing a place for retreat, relaxation, and multiple social opportunities.  This project has spurred redevelopment and created a spark in the surrounding community.

When  opportunities of improving public space  are realized, people enjoy their communities more and are often more healthy and happy as a result.  This, in turn, gives people a sense of pride in their community which often leads to individuals taking ownership in, and looking out for their communities.   Jane Jacobs coined the term “eyes on the street,” in her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities , which implies that people who are invested in their communities care for them, look out for them, and help to “police” them by being observant and taking responsibility within the community


With these ideas at the forefront of landscape architecture and urban design, people are recognizing that these forgotten and underutilized public spaces can be of great value to our communities.  In scales as large as the Atlanta Beltline, a 22 mile greenway connecting Downtown Atlanta to the surrounding suburbs, to as small as a parking lot space in a city, these areas that are often considered insignificant or mundane, can be so much more.  Landscape architects are leading projects around the globe at many scales that address many of these pressing issues that cities and communities face today.


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