Constructing Healthy Placemaking in the Urban Age

This post is part of our Thriving Cities discussion series, following the sixth edition of the NewCities Summit in Incheon Songdo, South Korea in June 2017.

Public spaces are the heart of a city, where human interactions, leisure, culture and the arts intersect. Animating those public spaces requires thinking, planning and collaboration. How can we unleash the social potential of a space? How can urban interaction become central to city planners’ strategies for shared spaces?

Panel moderator Manisha Natarajan, a news editor specializing in real estate and urban development at CNBC New Delhi, opened the panel with a question about how cities can make their public spaces more inclusive. Fleur Pellerin, Founder and Chairwoman of Korelya Capital and former French Minister of Culture, related her experience in France where “the segregation and geography of inclusion and exclusion is determined by the presence of schools. Now in France there is a geography of cities where privileged people live near good schools.” The path to avoid this situation, according to Pellerin, is for government to take a leading role in creating inclusive spaces.

Drawing on another example, Vicky Chan, Founder of Avoid Obvious Architects, highlighted Heritage Fields in New York City as a successful public space. Inadequately maintained and ignored in the past, the city transformed the space to include a ballpark, green fields and extracurricular programs. Chan said Heritage Fields is now more accessible and desirable, noting people feel safe bringing their families.

Vera Baboun, former Mayor of Bethlehem, agreed, suggesting public parks are vital to a city. “Parks are open spaces for everyone to attend. Parks are a place where you can move, play with freedom and liberty, and enjoy it,” she said.  For Baboun, parks inspire cultural interaction and create socially diverse spaces.

Natarajan asked whether there were ways to encourage public spaces. Chan said cities must “make public spaces more interactive and interesting,” adding, “include exciting, interactive elements.” Pellerin shared this view, saying open spaces need “a conception of space and urban planning that encourages specific behaviors, like using fewer cars and more bicycles. There needs to be a better display of activities within a city.”