What Makes a Good Public Space?

Good public spaces are fundamental to sustainable communities and healthy cities. At CMG, we believe public spaces have the power to improve city life and strengthen our relationship to community and place. Throughout history, public spaces have embodied public life by being a true shared, democratic space for all. In San Francisco, our public spaces have facilitated diverse uses and gatherings, from marches for equal rights to World Series viewings, which demonstrate how public space reflects our culture. 


We asked our designers what makes a good public space. This is what we heard:

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“A great public space is used and loved. Some strive to create iconic landscapes with bold gestures and dramatic moves but if the space isn't used and loved by the public, then it's not successful.  Talk to the community and learn about what they want. Prioritize functionality instead of drowning them only in form. People make the space successful, period.”
– Greg Barger


“A sense of safety and refuge, simultaneous with one of ephemeral change – nothing being too rigid or fixed.  One in which the visitor feels some slight agency in being able to make it their own, to tailor its program to their needs.  A space where the materials and details give a sense of place specific to the location for orientation and uniqueness, but which are not calling so much attention to themselves that they distract from how the user might utilize them.  A space that attracts people from a wide variety of backgrounds and makes them feel comfortable using the space as they wish, bringing different types of people, experiences and program in contact.” 
– Julia Price


“My favorite public spaces bring me out of head, into my body, into conversation, into the city, into the breeze, under the canopy, to the water’s edge. They are varied and many. They can be boldfaced and kinetic like dance music or quiet and sturdy like background percussion. What makes them all work is a shared provision of a balance between safety, wonder, comfort and risk.”
 – Rebecca Sunter



World Series Viewing – Civic Center, 2014



America's Cup – Marina Green, 2013



Pride Parade – Market Street, 1982



Saturday or Sunday – Dolores Park, 2014