Book Review – People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space

By on January 23, 2011.

Our society has become accustomed to living in urbane environments with limited resources for interacting with other people and unfortunately, even nature.  It can be explained as an almost necessary design requirement, the increasing demand for public open space is continuing to advance within the common language of development and redevelopment projects.

With an intended audience of, but not limited to, professional designers, student designers, city officials, future residents, advocacy groups and even social scientists, People Places establishes a great resource on the subject of urban open space.  Editors Clare Cooper Marcus and Carolyn Francis organized the book into seven chapters; urban plazas, neighborhood parks, miniparks and vest-pocket parks, campus outdoor spaces, outdoor spaces in housing for the elderly, child care outdoor spaces and hospital outdoor spaces.

Within each chapter, a brief history and definition of the type of open space being discussed is explained, along with reviews of other pertinent literature, if one chooses to investigate the subject further.  This aspect alone is a key component that was found exciting as it can be quite time consuming sifting through hundreds of books on such topics.  Following the introduction and definition, the chapter delves into the design guidelines.  What really sets this book apart from other design guideline proposals is the rigorous efforts in research and collection from previous studies the editors  performed on these types of spaces.  Such investigations are revealed within each chapter, and not only offer more sources for the inquisitive mind, but reinforce the design recommendations outlined.

Each chapter is self contained, although some of the information may be applied to each subject.  With each open space type having varying attributes such as location, and use, the chapters thoroughly disect the topics into many sub-components in order to expose the uniqueness of each, as well as similarities.  For example, one of the issues explored in the urban parks chapter is seating.  Not only do the editors explain “who are the sitters?”, but they go even further into describing the different styles of seating and even the direction and surface material of the seating elements.  Each chapter concludes with a couple of case studies which are accompanied by site plans and other graphics, but what is really interesting is the outlined “Successful Features and Unsuccessful Features”.  This helps to apply what has been taught in the chapter to a real life situation and understand the outcome.

While struggling to pull your attention from the book, there are wonderfully positioned and perfectly timed photographic and illustrative examples eliminating any questions that may arise during the read.  Many of the images dating back to the 80’s and 90’s add a little humor to the reading as well.

Published in 1998, the second edition of People Places has included several new case studies and two new types – the street as plaza in Chapter 1, and the linear park in Chapter 2.  Research and demographic information has been updated (where applicable), substantial material added to Chapter 7 and increased concerns with issues of crime/personal safety and accessibility (ADA) are addressed throughout the book.  The editors felt it was imperative to add a new chapter entitled Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) as this is the process that establishes almost all of the research used in the book.

This book is highly recommended especially to those in the design fields, both professionals and students.  Even though the original may have been  published 20 years ago the information and wealth of sources provided within the book, especially the 2nd ed., are still applicable to the issues we do and will encounter.

Will Ramhold is a student of Landscape Architecture at the University of Florida and a contributing writer for Landscape Invocation.

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