40. Promote Diversity in Public Spaces

Grand park LA _ The Park for Everyone 1

There are many ways to give lip service to diversity. Celebrating cultural or ethnic differences as competitive advantages severely limits the true benefits of having diversity where we work or live. As Ellen Berry states in a Salon article, “Appealing to diversity can unite people across differences that divide us deeply. It affirms a much-needed basis of commonality — a shared, self-reinforcing commitment to each other.” It’s worth noting that much of that article focuses on how specifically white people use diversity as a means to avoid talking about series racial issues.

Public space is where you can demonstrably take action to support equity and accurately reflect who our communities are. As we noted in the post about public assembly, public space is where so much of the social change in this country has become broadly visible. Increasingly our cities are becoming more diverse. 1 out of every 5 Bostonians is Latino. Integrating that diversity into our public spaces very specifically communicates that everyone is welcome, valued, and supported. As Mark Rios said in his presentation “Designing for Diversity“, “The story of place is complex, diverse, and layered.” It’s time that our communities reflect that.

The Project for Public Spaces highlights 8 Lessons in promoting diversity in public spaces:

  1. Create opportunities for diverse social interaction, while also supporting places for diverse groups can celebrate their peers.
  2. Placemaking puts a particular emphasis on engaging many different stakeholders, listening to their stories, and making recommendations reflective of their specific concerns and desires.
  3. Extensive and ongoing community participation is critical to the success of a multicultural place.
  4. Discrimination is real, and needs to be tackled by public space managers.
  5. Integrate many different types of uses–as well as elements that bring people together–into plans and designs.
  6. Locate public spaces in areas where they can serve multiple communities.
  7.  Focus on neighborhoods. As a unit of planning, the neighborhood is the most important in terms of promoting social diversity and increasing social capital. It is conceptually broad enough to get individuals to think beyond themselves and their streets, but of a small enough scale to still support the notion of “neighborliness” and encourage collaboration between community planners and stakeholders.
  8. Program public spaces with educational and cultural activities that celebrate diverse cultures.


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