The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

20 May 2007

Make public spaces great

William H Whyte once said, "It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people – what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished." Today, many public spaces seem to be intentionally designed to be looked at but not touched. They are neat, clean, and empty - as if to say, "no people, no problem!" But to us, when a public space is empty, vandalized, or used chiefly by undesirables, this is generally an indication that something is very wrong with its design, or its management, or both.

Why do many public spaces fail? Because they are badly designed, because they do not cater to the needs of users, and because they are badly managed. These are some of the most common problems:
1.Lack of places to sit.
2. Lack of gathering points including features people want or need, such as playgrounds or for food and drink.
3. Poor entrances which are bright and inviting.
4. Lack of distinctive features that encourage activity around them.
5. Paths that don't go where people want to go
6. Domination of the space by vehicles, cars taking preference over people.
7. Blank walls or dead zones around the edges of the park.
8. Inconveniently located access to public transport.

Take action. Rate your local park as a great public space. See what could be improved. Come up with some ideas for making it better. Find a way of getting your ideas implemented (persuading the park management, getting publicity for the problem and the solution, starting a campaign).

Project for Public Spaces provides ideas for making parks great spaces, and also lists the world’s best parks. The top 6 are:
1. Plaza Hidalgo, Mexico City
2. Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
3. Central Park, New York
4. Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York
5. Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
6. Parc Guell, Barcelona
And some of the worst include: Forum des Halles, Paris, Tate Modern, London, Parc Diagonal del Mar, Barcelona; Bryant Park, New York., The National Mall, Washington DC.

Project for Public Spaces:

…and have a park that pleases dogs

In public parks, dogs and humans don’t always mix that well. Dogs want to chase balls and generally run around. This pleases their owners, but can annoy people just wanting to relax. Dogs can make a mess; and even if their owners scoop the poop, the grass still becomes a heath hazard.

One solution has been to provide dog-free spaces for children (with their parents) to play. But another solution is to create a great space in the park for dogs to have fun whilst their owners look on. This is what First Run has done in Tompkins Park in New York. There are two enclosures: one for smaller dogs and one for larger dogs. It is a dogs playground, with lots of things to do and play with. Some dogs might even feel that they have gone to doggie heaven. The whole thing is controlled and funded by the community.

From the First Run website: The name "FIRST RUN" is no accident - our run was the very first official off-leash space in New York City. In the mid 1980s, before our community had been granted an official space, Tompkins Square Park was a dangerous place suffering from the ill effects of rampant drug use and crime that plagued New York at the time. The founders of First Run were not willing to give up their place in the park, and fought the perils of the day -- and City Hall! -- to demand a safe place to gather with their dogs.

Eventually the Parks Department listened. The Parks Department included one caveat: the run must be managed and FULLY FUNDED by the community (not the city.) The community which fought so hard to make FIRST RUN a reality, raised money and organized volunteers.

Today, even those who have no love for dogs will tell you that FIRST RUN was instrumental in bringing the park back from it's dark days -- providing a center of community renewal that the neighborhood desperately needed. Today, First Run is a source of immense pride and devotion for countless people.

If you believe in equal recreational rights for dogs (with humans), then seen what you can do to introduce the First Run idea into your local park.

First Run:


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