1.3 Types of Urban Public Realm Projects

The purpose of this section is to list types of places, projects, sites, features, geographic locations, benefits, and trends affecting the urban public realm.

Types of Places

  • New Signature Park
  • Revitalized Park
  • Pocket Park
  • Neighborhood Park
  • Plaza (hardscape)
  • Playground
  • Dog Park
  • Historic Landscape/Cultural Landscape
  • Places of Remembrance
  • Public “Right-of-Way” or “ROW” (Street, sidewalk, bikeway, etc.)
  • Traditional street
  • Transit mall, pedestrian mall, shared street, “woonerf”
  • Transit ways (buses, streetcar, LRT)
  • Bridges
  • Playground
  • Bicycle Facilities
  • Rails to Trails
  • Expressway lid
  • Levee
  • Roadway Infrastructure remnants – land around cloverleafs, spaces under bridges and overpasses
  • Street Tree programs
  • Parks/gardens on vacant house lots (urban agriculture)
  • Public Art
  • Conservation
  • Stormwater management
  • Environmental remediation
  • Related Amenities/Concessions
  • Privately owned public spaces (“POPS”)
  • Urban Core places
  • Suburban town centers
  • Suburban and exurban places
  • Sub/exurban Lifestyle centers

Types of Sites

  • Old sites/places in need of revitalization
  • Old sites/places in need of repositioning as a new use
  • Newly envisioned/needed places in locations that do not yet have them
  • Abandoned/contaminated industrial sites
  • Waterfronts, marine terminals
  • Rail yards
  • Landfills
  • Undevelopable land (poor soils, environmental conditions, subsurface structures, pipes, tunnels)
  • Historic assets
  • Valuable developable land (how to put a park in an urban area where land values are high – who pays?)

Features of Urban Public Realm projects/places

  • Grass, fields, lawns
  • Trees
  • Plantings
  • Topography/landforms
  • Landscape
  • Hardscape (plazas, sidewalks, streets, boulevards)
  • Fixed furniture
  • Loose furniture: benches, chairs, tables, umbrellas, waste receptacles
  • Recreational and programming facilities such as ping-pong tables, Jenga, other games, lending libraries
  • Water features (ponds, lakes, fountains, splash pads, natural water, rain gardens, stormwater management features)
  • Lighting: Light poles, up-lights, feature lighting, programmable lighting
  • Signage: wayfinding, rules, interpretive
  • Food and beverage concessions – fixed buildings and seasonal, mobile carts
  • Toilets – permanent and temporary
  • Event and performance spaces and facilities
  • Rentals, equipment and game rentals

Geographic Locations of Public Places (relative to city)

  • Downtown urban/commercial core
  • Urban residential neighborhoods
  • Urban commercial corridors
  • Urban parks, plazas
  • Neighborhood parks (playgrounds, pools, courts, and recreation facilities)
  • First ring suburban neighborhoods, town centers, and commercial corridors
  • Suburban and exurban town centers and commercial corridors

Trends Influencing Urban Public Realm Projects

  • Rebalancing of the public right-of-way (ROW) to provide more space for other modes – prioritizing transit, bicycles, pedestrians, and disabled people over car-oriented designs
  • “Road/lane diets,” traffic calming measures, shortening of cross-walk distances, bump-outs at intersections, shared streets/woonerfs, emphasis on pedestrian safety e.g. Minneapolis Vision Zero objectives: to eliminate deaths and life-threatening injuries on our streets
  • Multi-modal streets and facilities
  • Growth in cycling, demand for more bicycle facilities including shared and separated
  • Urbanization of first ring suburbs – e.g. new adding sidewalks in St. Louis Park
  • Growing aging population – facilities for pedestrians and the disabled
  • Future – Autonomous vehicles/driverless cars – land use impacts
  • Evolving technologies – Projection, dynamic lanes, fountain technology, programmable lighting and sound, etc.
  • Increased interest in and use of active programming of public places, as a way to increase street /public life and as a way to generate income to support operations
  • Universal design, accessible design, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Evolving needs and ideas about what comprises the public realm and who its users are
  • Evolving financing models – Public-Private Partnerships (for the capital project), operating reserves, foundations (for ongoing operations)
  • Evolving operating models – business improvement districts (BIDs), non-profit operators, conservancies, land trusts, foundations, and etc.
  • The public realm’s increasing value as an amenity (residents & businesses)
  • Funding sources such as park dedication fees, e.g “Sense of Place” fees in Sunnyvale, CA
  • Public safety and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
  • First Amendment rights (freedom of assembly and freedom of speech);
  • Laws, ordinances, and the regulatory framework of public places, e.g., the elimination of spitting and loitering laws perceived to be targeted at specific groups
  • Equity in the distribution of public facilities – geographic and socio-economic
  • Equity in access to public spaces including, for example, studies of immigrants and other groups feeling less welcome in public spaces

Benefits of Public Realm

  • Health and wellness
  • Other measures of personal attainment including income, education
  • Sociological
  • Creative, public art
  • Environmental, habitat, sustainability, resource use
  • Climate, heat island effects
  • Economics, business attraction, productivity
  • Uses/User needs
  • Happiness
  • Strengthen social life and bonds of a civil society in urban areas


Producing the Urban Public Realm: Field Notes on Project Implementation Copyright © by Peter Hendee Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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