Public Spaces: Creating Cities for People

The cities in which we live play a vital role in our health, well-being and overall quality of life. One of the largest contributors in cities to one's quality of life is the public spaces and streets that exist. Public spaces, which includes streets, provide the opportunity for people to come together in their cities and neighbourhoods.

Over the past decade, city leaders from around the world have begun to refocus on creating cities for people.  As Jan Gehl, one of the world’s most preeminent urban designers states,

“First life, then spaces, then buildings - the other way around never works.”

People are at the heart of making dynamic public spaces which, in turn, build a city’s reputation and civic image. Given that people play such an integral role in creating vibrancy, getting to and from these spaces is just as important as the public space itself.

A city’s rapid transit system is one of the key connectors that can provide access to these spaces. Rapid transit and public spaces are one of the first bonds a person makes with a city or neighbourhood they are visiting. Their entire impression of a place is established by that first public space and/or transit ride they see or have.

In fact, recently Forbes magazine did a study which ranked the 10 most recognisable symbols in the world. Three of the top 10 were transit entities, beating out the likes of McDonalds, Coke and Apple;

#7 is the Paris Metro,

#3 is the New York City Subway, and

#1 the most recognisable symbol in the world is the London Underground (or the Tube).

As you can see, these systems and spaces create a city’s civic image and, in turn, a place’s economic potential. When rapid transit systems are linked with public spaces they create a strong dynamic for economic development and ultimately, given that both are the living rooms of every community, they create a sense of vibrancy, attractiveness and a positive city image.


Sean Galloway, MUDD, MCIP RPP
Manager, Urban Design & GIS
Planning Services
City of London