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How Public Spaces Make Cities Work

Monday, April 14, 2014

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Can a chair make the difference between a lively, beloved park and a desolate one?

Amanda Burden thinks so.

Put a chair in an open public space, and it may invite a passerby to stop.

Make the chair comfortable, and the passerby may spend a few minutes there.

Make the chair movable, so you can drag it over to have lunch with your friends, and it becomes the nucleus of a dynamic community space.

Images: Amanda Burden / TED2014

As New York’s chief city planner under the Bloomberg administration, Amanda Burden led revitalization of some of the city's most familiar features, from the High Line to the Brooklyn waterfront. In a new TED Talk, Burden offers the secrets of designing a successful public space.

"I believe that lively, enjoyable public spaces are the key to planning a great city," says Burden, New York City's chief city planner during the Bloomberg Administration. "They are what makes it come alive."

In a new TED Talk, Burden lays out what makes a public space work, or not: "What attracts people to successful public spaces, and what is it about unsuccessful places that keeps people away?"

'Design is Not Just How Something Looks'

Hitching her "wonky" interest in animal behavior to her urban planning, Burden offers her audience an enlightening and personal walk through winning parks and public spaces, and losing ones.

The transformation of Battery Park City from a gigantic, sandy, near-bankrupt landfill to a green community fixture, for example, involved many "little battles"—over lighting, over seating design and location, over materials, over plantings, Burden said.

Battery Park City before
BatteryParkCity - After

A thousand "little battles" over design and function were involved in transforming Battery Park City, former New York City chief planner Amanda Burden recalls.

The secret, says Burden: Focus on people.

Design "is not just how something looks," she says. "It's how your body feels on that seat in that space, and I believe that successful design always depends on that very individual experience."

The concept is simple, though the execution is complex, she adds.

"I believe that a successful city is like a fabulous party," says Burden. "People stay because they are having a great time."


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Color + Design; Design; Government contracts; Public spaces

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