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"A Guideline For Making Space"

This paper was compiled from six separate working papers prepared by Regional Environmental Center (Slovakia), Nadace Partnerství (Czech Republic) and Nadácia
Ekopolis (Slovakia), LAMORO (Italy), RiSSC (Italy), FH Erfurt (Germany) and TU Wien (Austria).
This guideline is part of the project “UrbSpace” (www.urbanspaces.eu) that is implemented through the CENTRAL EUROPE Programme cofinanced by the ERDF.

Author: Prof. Richard Stiles, Institute for Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, University of Technology, Vienna

Thanks to all the project partners and STC-members of UrbSpace Project  for providing their input and critiques upon this planning guideline. This  guideline is based on the Working Papers 3.2.1 to 3.2.6 of the UrbSpace Project. Extracts from these Working Papers will not be marked as  citations in the following statements, as they are the very underlying  groundwork for this paper and regarded as conjoint output of all six project partners.

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Joint Strategy

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country English

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country Leitfaden für die Gestaltung städtischer Freiräume
country SKUPNA STRATEGIJA
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country Joint Strategy - polish version
1. Executive Summary

National and international environmental policy, above all the European Landscape Convention, increasingly recognises the critical importance of attractive urban and peri-urban spaces for attracting jobs and investment, as well as improving the quality of life for Europe’s citizens, most of whom live in an increasingly urban world. The Landscape Convention is already in force and being implemented in some 30 European countries.

This document provides guidance on the planning and design of good urban spaces, as an indispensible contribution towards meeting the Convention’s aims of raising the awareness of and enhancing the urban landscape. It deals with both the process of creating good urban spaces as well as the criteria by which they can be defined and recognised. Urban open space includes not just parks and gardens, urban squares and housing open spaces, but encompasses the whole continuous matrix of un-built land within towns and cities. It forms the settings for all buildings and structures as well as linking inner urban areas with the surrounding landscape.

As part of a planned strategic network of open space running through the whole urban area, well designed urban spaces can contribute to ameliorating the impacts of the urban heat island effect through the cooling effects of vegetation; they can help regulate the water balance and reduce loads on the drainage system by allowing for the
infiltration of more rainwater; they can moderate the impacts of noise and pollution and provide habitats for native plants and animals.

At least as important as these environmental and ecological effects, which also help to provide urban residents with a first-hand experience of nature and natural
processes, are the many other ways in which urban open spaces benefit people directly. As well as making available physical spaces and facilities for people of all
ages and interests to spend their leisure time, to play and engage in both formal and informal sporting activities, they act as an important forum for contact and communication, thereby helping to cement the fabric of society and promote social cohesion by furthering mutual understanding between the increasingly diverse groups which go to make up today’s urban society. Green and open spaces are also being increasingly recognised as having a measurable positive impact on the health, both physical and psychological, and well-being of urban residents.

Last but not least, are the less tangible, but by no means less important, benefits which urban open spaces can have in influencing the way in which we perceive and identify with their environment. Apart from helping to structure the urban fabric and making it easier to read and therefore easier to navigate, urban spaces are vital in creating a sense of identity within our towns and cities, and acting as important carriers of meanings and values at a wide range of scales.

Before any, let alone all, of these urban space functions can be fulfilled, one essential precondition must be met: the necessary un-built urban land must be available in the first place. While most towns and cities have inherited an historical legacy of parks and open spaces, where the value of these has not been fully recognised and they have not been properly protected, these spaces are frequently under threat, both from development pressures and the growing demands to accommodate the increasing requirements of motor traffic. The protection of the existing urban open space resource and the provision of new open spaces to respond to the demands created by new development must be a vital part of any strategic approach to urban space.

Of course not all urban spaces are in a position to fulfil all these functions, however, none of them can be assumed to happen automatically. To be successful and to live up to their full and varied potentials, all urban open spaces need to be properly planned and designed. Similarly it is not automatic that the needs of all stakeholders will be met in all open spaces – that is why there is a need to take these into account in a structured manner, and to involve them actively in the planning process. Users of all ages will have different needs and aspirations regarding open space, and so the requirements of all demographic groups, from pre-school children to pensioners will of course need to be catered for.

Experience has shown that there is also a need to pay particular attention to planning and design aspects affecting the interests of certain user groups which have tended to be neglected in the past. Gender sensitive design aims to take a systematic approach to ensuring that the needs of women and men are given equal consideration, but also tries to take into account the expectations of other minority groups in the design process. ‘Design for All’ focuses on the special requirements of people with disabilities, and it aims to see that they are able to access and use urban open spaces. This involves ensuring that all barriers to the equal use of urban spaces are removed or avoided, including invisible or psychological ones.

The third special aspect, which is also highly relevant for both the above two groups as well as to other users in general, involves focussing specially on the safety and security aspects in the process of the planning and design of urban open spaces. Design to minimise, not just the potential for crime, but also to maximise the sense of safety and security for all users of open spaces is a key issue here. It is important not to forget that gender sensitive design, ‘Design for All’ and giving special consideration to the safety and security aspects in the creation of urban open spaces in fact benefits all users, and therefore society as a whole, and not just the groups concerned.

Good urban spaces can and should, therefore, perform a multitude of important functions for as wide a range of the community as possible, and this guidance document outlines both  these functions as well as the requirements of the main user groups in detail. To ensure that all these factors are sufficiently taken into account in the planning and design process for the creation of a new urban space or the re-design of an existing one, it is essential that proper attention is given to structuring the planning the design process and to involving all the necessary groups.

The participation of the public is a key part of this, as all stakeholders who will be affected by a planning and design project should also have the opportunity to become actors in the planning and design process. Four main stages of the planning and design process are identified and outlined in detail. These are preparation; design; implementation and finally  maintenance and monitoring. It is important that local people and other users, as well as other stakeholders, should be involved in the process from the beginning of the first stage.

Last but by no means least, the final challenge to be met in creating good urban open spaces lies in putting together all the requirements of ecology and the environment, the needs of the varied user groups and the demands of a well structured and participatory planning process in order to create well organised and structured urban spaces. Most importantly, these must not be just anonymous ‘spaces’ but living ‘places’ with their own particular identity; they must not be just functional areas, but carriers of meaning and reflective of the values of all groups of users. To achieve this, professional design competence is essential, and suitably qualified specialists in the planning and design of urban landscapes and open spaces should be part of the team from the start.