Seeking the Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S. and Canada

Planetizen and Project for Public Spaces want you to help us determine the best public spaces in the United States and Canada. Add your favorites to our list, and vote for other submissions to move them up in the rankings. The results will be published on October 20th, 2011.


Two years ago, we asked you, our esteemed Planetizen readership, to help us determine the Top 100 Urban Thinkers. With thousands of votes, the crowdsourced list was provocative, unique and – to our amazement – very comprehensive. We'd like to access that same collective brainpower for our latest venture, in collaboration with the experts in this area, Project for Public Spaces (PPS).

In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS found that successful ones have four key qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit. Use these guidelines to help you choose your own selections, or use your own criteria to select your favorites.

Transamerica Pyramid's Redwood Park. PHOTO:wallyg.

Technically, there many examples out there of seemingly "public" spaces that are actually privately owned public open spaces, or POPOS. While the public/private distinction is interesting and sometimes problematic, we're going to ignore it for the purposes of this list. If Redwood Park, which is operated by the Transamerica Pyramid Building management in San Francisco is in your opinion one of the best spaces for the general public to gather and enjoy each other's company, feel free to nominate it. That said, let's draw the line at fully-enclosed private malls.

PPS offers another way to think about the success of public spaces, using the handy chart below. Imagine that the center circle on the diagram is a specific place that you know: a street corner, a playground, a plaza outside a building. You can evaluate that place according to four criteria in the red ring. In the ring outside these main criteria are a number of intuitive or qualitative aspects by which to judge a place; the next outer ring shows the quantitative aspects that can be measured by statistics or research.

For ideas, images and more, you can browse PPS' database of Great Public Spaces. For the purposes of this survey, we're not limiting the selections to, say, civic squares. A lot of the best public spaces today are pedestrian corridors, parks or markets.

If you're ready to vote, head over to and add your suggestions. You can also vote on other submissions. Voting will close in one month on 10/15, and we'll release the results shortly after.



Percentages of parkland might be interesting, too

I don't know how much serious analysis has been done on the "proportion of parkland" in each city.
THIS is a bit out of date, but I found it extremely interesting:

Lightening the Tread of Population on the Land: American Examples

Population and Development Review 22(3):531-545 (September 1996)

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT

The Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY

The Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY

Address comments to:

I quote:

"........Looking at the United States as a whole, the percentage of land set aside for public parks in 17 American cities with densities of 320 to 9,000 people per km2 ranges from 0.3 percent in Jacksonville, Florida to 19 percent in Dallas, Texas.(Ref 5) Embedded in cities, the green parks let people visit Nature with little trespass on Nature......"

Ref 5. "The cities are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Jacksonville, Kansas City (Missouri), Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. The low of 0.3 percent is in Jacksonville's 600 ha and the high is attained by the 19,000 ha of public parks in Dallas. Six of the 17 cities have more than 10 percent of their land in public parks. The park areas were transcribed from pp. 754 et seq. of Information Please Almanac (1989)."

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