Feature Article - January 2004
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Pull Up a Chair

How site furnishings transform a space into a place

By Kelli Anderson


Even seemingly perfect design plans can go awry, however, when transferred from the ideals of paper to the unpredictability of flesh-and-blood interaction. People may not gravitate to a space as planned or, over time, public needs may change. Success is seldom a one-time, one-size-fits-all equation.

"Not everybody can get it right the first time," says Phil Myrick, assistant vice president of PPS. "What might work this year may not work at all in three more years. The success of anyplace is 80-percent management, not design."

Myrick contends that a regularly managed presence on site to evaluate what areas are working and which are not, coupled with a willingness to rearrange and adapt a space, will ultimately keep a site humming and buzzing with people.


So what makes a space hum and buzz?

For PPS, its strategies for orchestrating successful public spaces are based in large part on the insights and observations of a former Fortune magazine editor-turned-urbanologist, William H. Whyte, who wrote his seminal works on the topic of human behaviors in public urban settings in the late '50s and early '60s.

Basically, Whyte boiled his observations down to one basic premise echoed in the words of a Scandinavian proverb: People come where people are. (Is it any wonder that people-watching is a favorite human pastime or that children would rather play at your feet than in an out-of-the-way playroom or isolated back yard?)

Rather than arranging benches in a traditional linear fashion, which creates a sense of isolation where seating will be less likely used and more easily abused, Whyte encouraged seating arrangements in groups to promote social interaction. Triangulation, a term used by PPS, takes this grouping concept a step further.

"Benches on a path are all right, but a path isn't enough to connect it to people; it can still be isolated," Myrick says. "A bench plus a path plus an attractive garden or near a kiosk or playground—an activity—these give a reason for people to go there."