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Public Open Space Design – Learnings from Canada’s most liveable cities

28/04/2020 - Articles -

Author: Rebecca Ingleton – Human Habitats Urban Designer

In October of last year, I had the privilege of travelling to four Canadian cities; Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, as the recipient of an International Specialised Skills Institute Fellowship, sponsored by the Italian Australian Foundation.

This urban-design study trip contributed to a body of research into how professionals and relevant authorities in Canada achieve successful urban public space outcomes; with the hope to establish a number of recommendations for urban designers here in Australia.

While on my international travels, I met with numerous stakeholders including leading Canadian urban design, landscape, and planning consultants and local authorities and attended the 2019 EcoCity World Summit in Vancouver. Furthermore, I visited award-winning and renowned public open spaces in each city, to analyse their physical design elements.

A key learning from the discussions with leading Canadian design consultants and authorities was the importance that was placed on public participation. I was fortunate to spend time with members of the Places for People team from the City of Vancouver, who at the time were collating the data from the largest Public Open Space survey ever conducted in the northern hemisphere, facilitated by world-class design consultancy; GEHL.

In Canada, the public participation process is not just a box ticking exercise; but is seen as a vital opportunity to achieve community support and ensure that the potential benefits of public spaces are maximised. By liaising with and investigating the needs of potential user groups, the designers can ensure that the specific infrastructure items and facilities are delivered. Therefore, spaces can be programmed for year-round use; catering to both passive and active usage such as sporting events, markets, outdoor gatherings, concerts and more.

By visiting and analysing the selected public open spaces, I created a checklist tool that could be used to guide members of the urban development industry to achieve successful public open space outcomes. The checklist overviews the design elements, under the themes Urban Context, Access, Safety, Physical Infrastructure, and Landscaping, that should be commonly observed/analysed at each selected public open space.

Follow this link to access the full report and download the Design Elements Checklist.