Planetizen and the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) started a crowdsourcing project earlier this year to get a sense for what communities, planners, and designers see as the top 100 public spaces in the U.S. and Canada. However, instead of presenting an “impartial list of the most revered, tested, and acclaimed public spaces” that reflects a dispassionate assessment of sites’ qualities, Planetizen and PPS instead announced a list today that is in part a result of communities’ active lobbying and efforts to boost votes for their local spots. Still, Planetizen says topping the list this way may just be another measure of success: these are places communities are really passionate about.
By this measure, The Circle, a small roundabout park in Normal, Illinois, designed by Chicago-based Hoerr Schaudt landscape architects, is the number-one public space, beating out New York City’s Central Park and High Line Park, as well as Millennium Park in Chicago. Planetizen spoke to Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, who said: “I do believe the Circle as a Public Space stands on its own as a truly unique, inviting and innovative space.” Indeed, the park is one of the more innovative models of the past few years and was the subject of one of the most popular ever posts on this blog, but can it be more popular than Central Park? Perhaps New Yorkers are too busy to vote.
While this may cause some to scratch their heads, Planetizen and PPS seem fine with this feistier, more democratic view of the top 100 public spaces. “It seems highly appropriate that we celebrate the local, people-driven spots over the Olmsted ‘Emerald Necklace.’ In this era of fine-grained urban planning, change is happening in the streets, not in the grand parks and municipal plazas. Place today is being made with a handful of chairs and a planter in a parking space.”
The top ten places include:
1. The Circle, Uptown Normal, Illinois
2. Temple Plaza, New Haven, Connecticut
3. Campus Martius Park, Detroit, Michigan
4. Cal Anderson Park, Seattle, Washington
5. CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, Mankato, Minnesota
6. Bryant Park, NY, NY
7. Pittsburgh Market Square, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
8. Arts District at Bay Street, Bellingham, Washington
9. Balboa Park, San Diego, California
10. Church Street Marketplace District, Burlington, Vermont
The rest of the top 100 list includes many of the parks, streets, and important public places you’d expect but, here, they don’t place very highly, which, in this case, means they didn’t get that many votes among Planetizen readers. Iconic and amazingly well-visited Central Park in New York City, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, comes in at a suprisingly low 32nd place, while art-deco Lincoln Road in Miami, a must-stop for any visitor to Miami Beach, is further down at 62nd place. The great Ferry Building/Farmer’s Market and Crissy Fields in San Francisco only got 31st and 39th place. Yosemite National Park is in 58th place. Meanwhile, the High Line Park, designed by James Corner Field Operations, was at 12th place. Just to note, Canada is not lacking in great public spaces, but only lacking support in this list: Canada only comes into the list at 71st place with Stuart Park in Kelowna, British Columbia. Canadians must not have heard of this project.
If anything, this list may help promote the littler-known, yet loved parks that are changing local communities, like The Circle in Uptown Normal or Campus Martius Park in Detroit. Try to make sense of the list yourself.
As a companion to this project, Planetizen also asked three leading architecture critics, an author on cities, two landscape architects, and a smart growth expert for their top 10 public spaces. James Russell, architecture critic, Bloomberg News; John King, urban design critic, The San Francisco Chronicle; Inga Saffron, architecture critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Anthony Flint, author of Wrestling with Moses (see an interview); Nicole Horn and David Gal, ASLA, two landscape architects with SWA Group; and Sam Zimbabwe, Director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development added their picks. Interestingly, there was little agreement among the critics and designers, except for the High Line, which got four votes. Central Park, NYC, Millennium Park, Chicago, and Stanley Park, Vancouver, also got multiple votes.
Gal, though, made the case for San Diego’s great park, demonstrating that design professionals are equally as passionate about their favorites as communites are with theirs: “My favorite public space is The Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego. Strolling on a warm southern California afternoon through the many museums and lush landscaping amongst the eclectic Spanish-Colonial Revival architecture (built nearly a century ago for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition) is pure bliss…it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Image credit: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects