Public spaces can often feel anonymous – nothing more than connections between buildings. They should, however, be places of substance which add to the interest and excitement of city life. If designed well, they can instil a sense of ownership, pride and wellbeing, as well as promote economic growth. If designed badly, they can produce ghettoes, social tension and communities which may well fail.
The role played by buildings cannot be underestimated; their uses, especially at ground floor level, are critical in defining the nature of the spaces they spill on to. The edges between inside and outside spaces are often where much of city life is to be found; the broader the edge, the better the relationship between the building and the public realm.
Urban edges have a number of characteristics; they have different “thicknesses” relating to their level of accessibility, both physical and visual; they can be external or internal spaces, or both – such as shops, cafes and markets; their use and character can change depending on the time of day, the day of the week, the season and the weather. An appreciation of both the context and the culture of the place in which the edge exists will better ensure the success of the urban realm and the community which occupies it.
Successful cities operate at a very simple level. They need to take the ultimate building block which determines scale, the human being, and measure life accordingly. Having successfully attracted new businesses into our cities, the real challenge then is to have them stay and expand and attract others to join them. I believe that the quality of the public realm and its interface with the buildings that enclose it is so incredibly significant in the success of city economies that if it were to fail, the city would ultimately fail too.