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June 17, 2012

Project for Public Spaces

As Sustainability Week comes to a close on Nokia Connects, we take a look at Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an innovative New York nonprofit organisation that works with communities in order to create and nurture public spaces. It is easy to see urban development as a threat to sustainability and the environment – but PPS think about things differently by exploring how public spaces can actually help people live responsible, happy lives.

Great places like Vancouver's Granville Island come from focusing on people and place, not design.

via Project for Public Spaces

They do this by working with those responsible for urban planning to influence the way that cities are built and maintained. We spoke to Ethan Kent, Vice President of PPS:

Hi Ethan. First of all, how did PPS come about?

Our founder, Fred Kent, founded the Project for Public Spaces in 1975, at a time when people were leaving cities. The mission was to introduce a series of simple principles to make public spaces work for people again.

How does the PPS model work?

PPS has pioneered a model for achieving sustainable and thriving cities that we call Placemaking; a common sense approach to making your community a great place to live, which is brought about by a series of incremental, locally-based improvements influenced by the communities themselves: from small-scale interventions to transformations of entire cities and regions.

What do you believe to be the impact of Placemaking?

Placemaking is central to many of the powerful trends shaping the world today. The Project for Public Spaces has worked in over 3000 communities in 42 countries to develop a proven model for sustainable development of human environments.

• In social terms, Placemaking builds a lasting sense of community that helps integrate diverse populations. Research has shown that residents of compact, walkable neighbourhoods with places to socialise produce healthier lifestyles, promote the lively exchange of ideas and further social equity.

• In economic terms, it is a cost-efficient way to become a competitive city. Abundant research suggests that human and creative capital of our communities is now the catalyst of economic growth rather than mere results of that growth.

• In terms of environmental sustainability, Placemaking is about creating more sustainable and liveable communities that encourage walking, transit, support community health, and reduce reliance on the automobile.

What are the best examples of its impact?

The results of Placemaking can be seen in dozens of new public plazas in New York (including Times Square) and San Francisco, vibrantly used public spaces around Houston – in areas where activity was almost unimaginable – and new central squares in cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Mississauga in Canada, and Perth in Australia.

The opening of Houston's Market Square

via Project for Public Spaces

We are now working to establish Placemaking and a focus on public spaces on a broader level: through a partnership with UN Habitat, through collaboration with city leaders in Nairobi, Mexico City and Adelaide – as well through continued collaborations with many US federal agencies.

Do you see a real desire from communities to improve their environments?

When given the opportunity, people love to talk about and contribute to the creation of successful places in their communities. Aspiring to create the world we want starting in the place where we live, work and play, is a transformative agenda that looks to create a world that has the capacity and drive to sustain itself.

Thanks Ethan.

Certainly a lot of food for thought. Do you agree about the importance of public spaces? Could your community be transformed by physical changes to your neighbourhood? What changes would you make? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below and on Twitter.