The Cornerstone Group

The Cornerstone Group

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A sense of place: spaces designed for people

Imagine a perfect day in your city or hometown.  What does it look like?  Where would you go?  How would you get there?  What would you do?  Who might you see along the way?

Place making, an evolving multi-disciplinary approach to planning, design, and management of public spaces, seeks to transform average spaces into high-quality places where people can relax, interact, collaborate, and participate.

After years of designing cities for the automobile, astute planners and developers are once again designing for people.

Cornerstone staff recently attended a Project for Public Spaces (PPS) event, where instructors gave participants insights about how great public spaces take shape.   

“Value created by the public realm will drive the success of a city.”

“How do we get from inadequate to extraordinary?”  The process starts with listening to the community, because neighborhood residents truly are the experts.  They know what is needed and what will or won’t work.

New York City has witnessed the redesign of several public spaces for greater pedestrian visibility and accessibility, which promotes increased activity and improves levels of public safety and comfort.  Setting back corners from the street edge, away from cars, can be an important aspect to the design.

Recognizing that cities and developers alike are strapped for cash, PPS advises for the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach.  Adding simple elements to plazas such as moveable furniture encourages people to customize a space for their specific use and group size, enabling collaboration.

Programming public spaces with a variety of activities from markets to fitness and games to performance arts and crafts
brings life to a place and attracts even more people to a neighborhood.  In New York City, Bryant Park was formerly home to several drug-dealing gangs and underwent a major renovation.  Committed to change, business owners supported redevelopment of the plaza through a special taxing district and created a more welcoming, accessible design, with the park booked morning, noon, and night with activities for all ages and cultural backgrounds.

Candy Chang, an artist and urban planner, recently spoke at the Walker Art Center and shared her vision for community spaces as inspiring places where citizens are both contemplative and engaged.  One of Chang’s most successful projects, a wall that encourages passerby’s to fill in the blank answering the question “Before I die I want to…” has expanded to cities on several continents.  A “Before I die” wall launched in Minneapolis in the Whittier neighborhood just hours before Chang’s arrival and was completely filled by eager citizens on the first day.

Chang believes that people are full of great ideas about how to make their city a better place, and they are ready to contribute to positive social change.  Neighborland, a website where citizens can post ideas for development in their neighborhood, launched during Chang’s April visit and Minneapolitans have already posted dozens of innovative ideas for improving the City by Nature.  One of the most popular ideas so far is creating a bike and pedestrian only environment in downtown Minneapolis.

Charles Landry, another recent visitor to Minneapolis with the Talk-It Hennepin Series, advises that project planners, architects, and developers ask the question: “Is a public space or building saying yes (encouraging visitors to enter and interact) or no (sending the message that visitors are not welcome)?”.

As more people choose to live in urban environments, creating effective and inspiring public spaces will contribute to safety, quality of life, and a diverse, prospering economy.  The Cornerstone Group is committed to implementing these critical design elements in its development projects.

For future updates on The Cornerstone Group’s projects please follow @TCGMN on Twitter or Lyndale Gardens on Facebook. 

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  • Mitchelene Hatembo

    I am impressed. If the opinion of the public is considered, urban design can become appropriate for the people it was meant for in the first place. Public participation should be encouraged even during the town planning pre-submission. However the publlic should be educated to note that partipation in terms of development should not be used as a tool for segregation but it is a mechanism to enhance and approprately direct development.