52. Create Better Urban Parks

Architecture is obvious.  You know what buildings look like in part because they visually occupy the positive space in the built environment.  As we often see in art, negative space can change our perception of an image, adding to its depth or importance.  Because parks and open spaces are situated between and around buildings, especially in urban environments, the public perception of them is that they don’t play as important a role in creating value for communities.  As we saw in yesterday’s post, these spaces contribute to a variety of performance metrics, but they also dramatically shape our experiences of the urban environments.  Imagine the added stress of not being able to find the emergency room entrance because of poor wayfinding or circulation patterns.

Knowing that value, we need to create better urban parks and public spaces to fully gain the benefit of them.  If you don’t create spaces that work for everyone, you’ll invariable create ones that don’t work for anyone. Too often, decisions about the design of public spaces are made to discourage the homeless, to avoid vandalism, or for ease of maintenance.  What evolves from that decision making are uniform parks that aren’t engaging or living up to their potential.

Below, we’ve included a few examples of great public parks and plazas around the US, that engage people, reflect their context, and solve functional urban problems like stormwater management or respond to social justice issues.  South Bend is on the right track with creating a more pedestrian friendly environment downtown and focusing on the resource of the river (with the River Lights and Riverfront Master Plan), but we lack the high impact spaces that these urban parks provide their respective cities.  Buildings may be obvious, but access to them is limited. Parks and other public spaces are for everyone, communicating the values of their communities.  It’s time to level up those spaces for South Bend.

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