Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Makes a Place a Great Place?

Every year, the American Planning Association unveils Great Places in America -- "30 places with a true sense of place, noteworthy character, community involvement, resilience, and a vision for the future." APA has specific criteria about what makes neighborhoods, streets, and public places truly great, and these are worth sharing because they help define what makes place Place.

What sets a Great Neighborhood apart from a non-Neighborhood? A Great Neighborhood:
  • Has a variety of functional attributes that contribute to a resident's day-to-day living (i.e. residential, commercial, or mixed-uses).
  • Accommodates multi-modal transportation (i.e. pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers).
  • Has design and architectural features that are visually interesting.
  • Encourages human contact and social activities.
  • Promotes community involvement and maintains a secure environment.
  • Promotes sustainability and responds to climatic demands.
  • Has a memorable character.

What are the characteristics of a Great Street?

  • Provides orientation to its users.
  • Balances the competing needs of the street — driving, transit, walking, cycling, servicing, parking, drop-offs, etc.
  • Fits the topography and capitalizes on natural features.
  • Is lined with a variety of interesting activities and creates a varied streetscape.
  • Has urban design or architectural features that are exemplary in design.
  • Relates well to its bordering uses — allows for continuous activity, doesn't displace pedestrians to provide access to bordering uses.
  • Encourages human contact and social activities.
  • Employs hardscape and/or landscape to great effect.
  • Promotes safety of pedestrians and vehicles and promotes use over the 24-hour day.
  • Promotes sustainability through minimizing runoff, reusing water, ensuring groundwater quality, minimizing heat islands, and responding to climatic demands.
  • Is well maintained, and capable of being maintained without excessive costs.
  • Has a memorable character.
Finally, what are the characteristics of a Great Public Space?
  • Promotes human contact and social activities.
  • Is safe, welcoming, and accommodating for all users.
  • Has design and architectural features that are visually interesting.
  • Promotes community involvement.
  • Reflects the local culture or history.
  • Relates well to bordering uses.
  • Is well maintained.
  • Has a unique or special character.

It is noteworthy that whether judging a street, a neighborhood, or a public space, APA looks for memorability and the fostering of social engagement. For more on APA's guidelines for great places and neighborhoods, visit


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