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Enhancing public spaces

5' read - published June, 1st 2024

Public spaces serve as the communal backbone of our cities, offering platforms for interaction, recreation, and collective expression. With a diverse array of responsibilities encompassing safety and security, community engagement, public health, and sustainability, public authorities face a complex landscape of challenges and opportunities. Drawing inspiration from successful easy to implement low-tech urban design initiatives around the globe, governments can reimagine public spaces as dynamic hubs of activity and connectivity, enriching the fabric of urban life for residents of all backgrounds and ages. 


This article explores how governments can make public spaces friendlier by prioritizing visual comfort and fostering community engagement and inclusion through innovative initiatives. It also discusses promoting sustainability through urban design, fostering community health with tailored mobility initiatives, and ensuring safety and accessibility, including specialized safety initiatives for women.

Visual comfort
Visual comfort

Visual perception varies from person to person, yet certain elements tend to universally contribute to an aesthetically pleasing environment, fostering a vibrant and comfortable atmosphere. Achieving visual comfort in urban settings relies on several factors, including cleanliness, well-chosen color palettes, appropriate lighting, captivating artistic or architectural features, and the presence of green spaces(1)


A certain extent of cleanliness in urban settings result in higher visual and olfactory comfort. By posing thought-provoking questions and encouraging participation through interactive voting, #PickYourSide urban garbage bins transforms mundane waste disposal into a playful experience, contributing to cleaner urban spaces. Ultra ever dry stops public urination by using water-repellent paint on the walls, having the walls pee back. 


Different color pallets in urban settings may effect mood and behavior of its actors. Some schemes tend to promote activity and interaction, beneficial in creating particular atmospheres.

High Loop is an inspiring example of how an obsolete bridge can be repurposed into a cheerful public space. A light intervention, relying mainly on painting can bring pedestrians back to streets, shown by Magma Flow. It can create new meeting places for neighborhoods as the Over the rainbow terrace. 


Small artistic and architectural elements may influence our visual perception to a high extend. The 1m83 project invites contemporary photographers to perform interventions within the public space. It intends to raise awareness of the dialogue between architecture, art, and nature among passersby, enliven usually giant blanc unused scaffolding surfaces and their surroundings. Helan’s “Stay strong” benches engages passersby, and helps maintaining overall health by promoting strength training among the public.

Community Engagement
Fostering Community Engagement

Public space is inherently dynamic, evolving with the interactions of its occupants and surroundings. Its vibrancy stems from a multitude of elements, with human presence playing a pivotal role. The presence of many people often indicates the success of a place, as successful locations tend to attract crowds (Whyte, 1980)(2).


People’s park stands as a testament to inclusive public space, allowing all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, to contribute to its design. This new park exemplifies a bottom-up design approach, fostering collaboration among artists, park users – including migrants, gang members, and activists – to create a space that reflects the needs and aspirations of the community.


The Vagabond tower is a wooden structure in the shape of a tower that can be rented by theatre groups but can also be used as a venue for festivals or even for concerts or cabarets. The temporary installation that moves from site to site, activates spaces for a short period and can breathe life into sites awaiting new projects.


The following two projects illustrate how public space advertising can raise awareness of important issues. The Everest campaign aims to shed light on the accessibility challenges faced by Parkinson's patients and disabled individuals. Meanwhile, Rising sea employs a unique approach to draw attention to rising sea levels resulting from climate change.

Sustainability in urban design

Sustainability is essential in urban settings to mitigate environmental impact, promote resource efficiency, and ensure the long-term resilience of cities in the face of climate change. Greenery is crucial as they contribute to environmental health by reducing pollution, providing oxygen and cooling dense spaces. Moreover, incorporating greenery promotes physical and mental well-being(3), offering opportunities for relaxation, recreation, and connection with nature in bustling urban settings.


The CUD roadway is designed to be regularly disassembled and reassembled to allow cities to continuously adapt to changes in their uses without having to repair the roadway's surface after each operation.


The city of Utrecht has transformed its bus stops in Green bus stops. 316 bus stops were crowned with sedum roofs and another 96 were equipped with solar panels. To fight increasing urban heat island effect, Corredores Verdes turns concrete walls and floors into gardens by growing trees and other small plants alongside the city's infrastructure. 


Urban A/C and CoolAnt are low-tech solutions to sustainably cool down public spaces. 


Mobility plays a significant role in designing sustainable public spaces. Prioritizing modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, and public transportation not only improves air quality and promotes healthier lifestyles but also fosters more inclusive urban environments. Moreover, infrastructure must adapt to accommodate shifts in energy use, alleviate congestion, and address evolving user needs.


The Smart tile is designed to improve the distribution of people on platforms and provides travelers with additional information.


In Romania, the city of Cluj-Napoca offers free bus rides in exchange for squats to encourage physical activity and promote public transportation usage.


The lamppost charging point from Ubitricity integrates EV charging efficiently into existing streetlights minimizing installation costs. 


Oonee offers secure bicycle and scooter parking modules that also function as street furniture.

Make the streets a safer place

As people increasingly engage with smartphones, they play a significant role in shaping traffic safety considerations. Furthermore, global energy challenges have led many cities to shut down streetlights, resulting in decreased safety perceptions in public spaces. The following projects aim to address these challenges, enhancing both safety perceptions and actual safety levels.


Statistics reveal that nearly one in five pedestrians in Europe is preoccupied with their smartphones instead of focusing on traffic(4). In Seoul, Traffic light stripes have been implemented on sidewalks, serving as visual cues to alert pedestrians absorbed in their smartphones when it's safe to cross.


As alternative to noisy speed bumps the small French village Bauné paints squiggly lines on roads to slow down speeding drivers.


Luminous cement offers an energy efficient alternative to traditional street lighting, harnessing solar energy to illuminate highways, roads, and bike lanes.

Women friendly public spaces

In the 28 member countries of the European Union, one in 10 women has experienced sexual violence in a public setting, emphasizing the need for more secure public spaces(5).


Abrigo Amigo ensures that individuals are not left waiting alone at bus stops during late hours. Similarly, the public transportation system in Paris introduced on-demand stops on Night buses after 10 p.m., enabling passengers to disembark between designated stops and shorten their journey home.


The Lev Tunnel in Umeå, Sweden, previously deemed unsafe, underwent renovations following feedback from women involved in the redesign process to enhance safety for all users of the space. The design adopted allows for daylighting, particularly due to the height of the tunnel. In addition, instead of classical angles, rounded corners were chosen allowing an overall view of the tunnel at all times, and ensuring that no one is hiding in a corner.

Women safety


In conclusion, this article emphasizes the importance of ongoing efforts to enhance the vibrancy, sustainability, and safety of public spaces in rapidly evolving urban environments. By leveraging innovative approaches such as technology integration, community engagement, and inclusivity promotion, cities can create functional and inviting environments that prioritize the well-being and safety of all individuals. 


Addressing contemporary challenges such as urban heat islands, public health, and emerging public safety issues requires proactive urban design strategies. As society and habits continue to evolve, solutions must adapt accordingly to ensure that cities remain resilient, inclusive, and enjoyable for everyone.

(1) Source: Rizky Amalia Achsani and Surjamanto Wonorahardjo 2020 IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 532 012016

(2) Source: Shristi Shrestha, THE VITALITY OF PUBLIC SPACE: CONSIDERING ‘DIVERSITY’, August, 2011.

(3) Source: BJPsych Int., The importance of greenspace for mental health, November, 2017.

(4) Source: DEKRA, Fußgänger beim Überqueren der Straße: Riskante Ablenkung durch Smartphones, April, 4th 2016.

(5) Source: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Violence against women: an EU-wide survey, March, 5th 2014.

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