What makes an urban place special?
The lists that have appeared on this website and in the media have an evaluative basis. It is the impact on the human emotions that make an urban place just acceptable or enjoyable to engage.
Here are the criteria for determining “Places”:
1. Accessibility: for public to these spaces by any mode; for non-motorized vehicles; for pedestrians
2. Engagement: Can the space be absorbed by the user – at a distance; close-up?; does it engage across demographic boundaries?
3. Beauty: Has there been design influence beyond a standard?
4. Evolutionary: Did the planners have a long-term vision?; has the space stood the test of time? Could it change with changing demographics or pressures of urbanization?
5. Barriers: Does the place pose a barrier to the public?
6. Environmental: Is this a nature infused design?
7. Design for Human Behaviour: with intensification, a greater and educated population will be users; people react differently in an urban environment than in a suburban situation.
William H. Whyte (sociologist 1917-1999) suggested that we have a moral responsibility to create physical places that facilitate civic engagement and community interaction. The spaces that were most delightful in York Region are those that have people who attract people most. An urban place is successful based on the volume of physical users. Whyte quantifies: “Up to seven people per foot of walkway a minute is a nice bustle”. This number can be applied to urban places, but is not tolerated in suburbia.
Surprisingly, urban places that are bustling feel safer. Imagine yourself on a Saturday late fall evening, compare Unionville street with, say Canada’s Wonderland parking lot. Both are tourist attractions and have pavement. In which place would you rather be?