If you’ve read our previous blogs you can probably guess that we love plants-we’d love to cover whole cities with them! However, our number one focus when we are designing is creating places for people. This blog is inspired by Nottingham’s higgledy-piggledy streets and alleys, and the intimacy and spaces that they create.

 

Jan Gehl, author of the seminal ‘Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space’, tells us there are two ways of creating space, ‘assembling’, or ‘dispersing’. Both techniques can be valuable on a spacial level to create interest:

assembling’ bringing people and activities together

dispersing’ spreading them out over a large area. 

 By using combinations of both we can create activity hotspots which are a key aspect to an exciting city. 

 The dimensions of our streets play an important part in this. In most urban design there is a prevalence of creating large open spaces in order to make them safer and encourage social interaction however, by doing so it often has an opposite effect. By dispersing people, the space becomes less ‘animated’, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Obviously this isn’t always the case, Nottingham’s Market Square on a summer’s day can be filled with people, who come to enjoy the fountain and the sunshine. Market Square works because it is used by many people for different reasons. Broadly speaking, we can put these people into two categories:

 

  1. Those who use the space to get somewhere, for example to work (Jan Gehl describes this as necessary activity).
  2. Those who choose to use the space, for example to play in the fountain (optional activity).

 

When both activities are present the space becomes populated and new social opportunities arise, which in turn attracts more people to the space. An interesting point to note is that people attract more people. We are fascinated by other people doing activities, this can be highlighted when you think of live music being played in a street, this will attract larger numbers than music coming from a speaker. 

Spaces fail when the above two categories of people are not present, or the number of people using the space are dispersed. In a city the size of Nottingham, creating too many large spaces spreads people out too thinly. Similarly making streets too wide slows the flow of people resulting in a dull space as intimacy is lost. 

Careful consideration needs to be made to space, particularly within an urban context, to make it appealing to people. No matter how hard we try, plants alone cannot attract people to a space. People should always come first in design, otherwise there is a risk that the space will not be used. Part of the enjoyment of designing, for us, comes from designing urban spaces that not only use planting schemes to mitigate climate change, but successfully appeal to people.