Key Messages September 1-3, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina

Key Messages
September 1-3, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
by Kyle Ferrell

This document represents both the key messages that arose out of Future of Places I and II and reflects on the principles of the Charter and Draft Toolkit on Public Space.

We affirm the role of public places as the connective matrix on which healthy and prosperous cities must grow.

Public places – streets, squares and parks – afford an essential human capacity for interaction, exchange, creativity, and knowledge transfer. They support the capabilities of residents to improve their own prosperity, health and wellbeing, and to modify their own relations to one another and adapt to conditions and opportunities. On such a connective matrix, great cities grow.

But public places have essential requirements, without which they cannot function. These requirements are largely known through evidence and history, but they are too often ignored as the result of professional and administrative limitations, and perverse incentives producing unintended consequences. Meeting this challenge will require key reforms in current practices.

The following messages reflect the views of the Future of Places:

Public space in rapidly urbanizing cities
Cities need to establish spatial plans, strategies and frameworks that aim to accommodate urban population changes and rapid growth rather than constrict and constrain it. Re-densification, revitalization and expansion processes are all needed with the imminent help of traditional block patterns, arterial and street grids. Investing in main squares and parks with the help of legislation can create a high quality in the architecture of the streets and public spaces, despite periods of change.

Street networks as interconnected public spaces
Streets in cities of the 21st century should serve as multimodal networks of social and economic exchange, built around the notion of interconnected public space. Applying an approach that emphasizes walkability and multimodal mobility will encourage a fine-grained block structure enhancing the street network by promoting density, social interaction and providing amenities and services of mixed-use.

Public space at a human scale
Studying the social behavior of the users of public space is essential. Through observation and understanding of human biomechanics, senses and behavioral patterns throughout different intervals in time, public space can be designed to cater to a variety of human variables- speed, shape and distance. This can then be followed by simple temporary interventions to promote positive behavioral patterns.

Public spaces designed as multidisciplinary arenas of sustainability
Properly designed public spaces not only contribute to improve the overall visual character of a city, but they also stimulate economic activities and enhance the functionality of the city. High density areas with adequate public spaces and infrastructure that facilitate non-motorized and public transport encourage walking, cycling and other forms of eco-friendly mobility, thereby reducing carbon emissions and cutting down reliance on fossil fuels.

Co-benefits of public space
Investing in public space can have social and economic benefits for the cities. If people are committed to their future in a specific place, they tend to invest more time and capital in that place; as a result, having a positive impact on the local GDP. The economic factor shows that public space has potential to offer economic returns on investment. Land value capture can be utilized as a tool employed by the municipality to collect captured value in the form of taxes as a result of their public investment.

Public space- a citywide approach
The consequences of poor urbanism can be detrimental and that is why a holistic view of the city is needed. When designing public spaces, attention needs to be placed not only on the space itself, but the form, function and connectivity of a city as a whole. Promotion of public space interventions directed at enhancing passages, establishing crossings, breaking down barriers and upgrading other functional localities throughout the city should be promoted.

Access to public space- public and private spheres
There has been a substantial reduction in access to public space creating unclear boundaries between the public and private spheres; which has the potential to limit democracy. There is a need for a new paradigm that should recognize the inability of the market to ensure the creation of a hierarchy of public and private open spaces protected over time. We need a more nuanced approach to planning, protecting and designing the urban hierarchy of open places including semi-public and semi-private space.

Inclusive public space for all- particularly vulnerable groups
Planning and designing public space for all implies taking special account of the most vulnerable portions of the population and those who do not have a voice. Attention needs to be placed on members of the population that are in vulnerable situations to ensure equal, safe and healthy access to the public realm. Vulnerable groups, most particularly the urban poor, those in high-density neighborhoods, and those with small dwellings, need to be satisfied from a social, political and spatial perspective when it comes to the public realm.

People centred approach to spatial planning
As an arena for public use and social interaction, public spaces are most often developed, managed and maintained on behalf of the municipal government. If the municipal government adopts a people-centred approach to urban planning, where the people guide the development of the city, they will more effectively achieve sustainable development. Emphasis needs to be placed on a shared responsibility between community and private entities in regards to the maintenance of public space.

Public space reflected in the sustainable urban development agenda
In order to create people centred cities, public space, as an interdisciplinary and intermodal sphere that interacts with all segments of the population, needs to be highlighted in the international sustainable urban development agenda. There is a need to establish a network of public space actors equipped with common principles and tools to ensure that adequate policy and management of public space are adopted and monitored in and beyond the Post 2015 development agenda, including the sustainable development goals and the new urban agenda that will arise out of Habitat III in 2016.

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