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7 Public Spaces That Got It Right

All are designed with the same core values: connection, innovation and sustainability.

A rendering of University Avenue in Toronto connected by green space into one continuous park

Published on January 11, 2021

What makes a great public space? There isn’t a single formula, but truly successful spaces are designed with the same core values in mind: Sustainability, connection and innovation. 

Around the world, from bustling parks to lively public squares, the places we are drawn to are designed with all residents in mind, built with ideas that will keep our cities healthy and resilient for years to come. 

During COVID-19, these spaces have become even more central to the lives of city residents, providing a safe place to gather distantly with loved ones, a home for community events and a platform for protests and demonstrations. 

We’ve picked seven public spaces that are inspiring us this year, from tried-and-true standbys to newer additions. These are spaces that get it right.  

A person in a red coat stands in front of empty picnic tables and string lights

Atwater Market, Montreal 

Montreal’s Atwater Market is a year-round gathering place for local goods, arts & culture and community events. During the pandemic, it’s also been a hub for local businesses and residents hoping to support them. 

The decades-old institution is housed in an art-deco style building, and provides residents with easy access to locally produced, seasonal goods. The space is designed with accessibility in mind, and encourages visitors to shop closer to home for their everyday needs.  

New York City street, with a revitalized rail deck running above it

High Line, NYC, U.S. 

In a city with plenty of internationally known public spaces, NYC’s High Line still manages to garner attention and praise from residents and tourists alike. 

The city transformed a defunct industrial railway line into a 2.6 km stunning elevated public park, with access points across the city. 

The added greenspace works to absorb rain fall, while providing much-needed recreational space to residents. And while it’s an elevated park, it was built with accessibility in mind – it has multiple wheel chair accessible entrances and washrooms. 

A rendering of Toronto's University Avenue, expanded into a long continous park

University Park, Toronto, Canada 

Some of the most exciting public spaces in Canada today are still being planned. 

University Park is a revisioning of Toronto’s iconic street as a 90-acre park, running from the provincial legislature to the city’s waterfront.  

The proposed park would bring together patches of public green space that are currently disconnected, by making minor adjustments to the existing roadway and converting just 9.5 acres of city-owned asphalt into native landscape, pedestrian walkways, bike paths and cultural installations.   

The project is still in its early stages, and Evergreen is proud to be a partner on this innovative initiative.  

A sunken reservoir filled with greenery and water

Paddington Reservoir, Sydney, Australia 

Sydney’s Paddington Reservoir is another example of what is possible when we reimagine former industrial sites into green public spaces. 

In the late 19th century, the reservoir funneled and processed water from the nearby Botany Swamps. It then became a storage facility for motor vehicles.  

In the 1990s, the roof of a former reservoir collapsed, causing the owners to reconsider the space. The result? A sunken garden that provides respite from Sydney’s busy streets, with plenty of green space and wheelchair accessible entrances. 

A stretch of paved road running along the waterfront, with Vancouver in the background

The Seawall, Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada 

Vancouver is a city with no shortage of great public spaces. Its iconic Stanley Park is home to The Seawall, the world’s largest uninterrupted waterfront path. 

Constructed in 1917, the wall uses innovative design to act as flood protection for the park while also providing a large, accessible trail for walking, running and cycling. The path connects different areas of the city, giving residents a chance to travel from destinations like the Vancouver Convention Center to the Spanish Banks Park.  

In 2020, as city residents sought out refuge in green spaces, the wall connected them to areas throughout the city, an excellent example of pairing resilience and recreation.

  An expanse of forrest, with Mexico City in the background

Chapultepec Park, Mexico City 

The Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Forest in Mexico City is one of the largest city parks in the world, coming in at just over 1,695 acres. 

The ancient park provides much needed air to the region, known as one of the city’s “lungs.” Its many attractions draw a wide range of visitors, including a historic castle, zoo and several museums. It is also a refuge for residents seeking green space in the bustling city. 

Three metal chairs sit against a wall covered in vines in Barcelona

Poblenou Superblock, Barcelona, Spain 

Barcelona’s Poblenou neighbourhood was designed in response to concerns about air and noise pollution. 

The city took advantage of its octagonal street grid to create a “superblock”, where speed limits are set at 10 km, streets are only open to local traffic and drivers must follow a one-way path. 

They then added bike lanes, landscaping, seating and play areas, welcoming the public into space that was initially designed for cars and traffic. The project has been a huge success, and the space is especially valuable during COVID-19, allowing residents to enjoy areas that were previously used only as thoroughfares. 

The city is continuing to build more superblocks, providing a scalable model for other cities around the world. 

What Are Your Favourite Spaces? 

Has this list sparked your imagination? We want to hear from you: What are your favourite public spaces, and why do you love them?  Tag us on Twitter or Instagram and let us know.