Before You Go - November 2014
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Parks, Public Spaces Top Attraction for Urbanites

By Deborah L. Vence

Our built environment is the backdrop for what we do on a daily basis—where we live, work and play. Buildings, rail systems, parks are all around us and what we see and depend on every day. And, what people love about urban areas is far-reaching, including parks and public spaces, according to a recent study by Sasaki Associates Inc.

The study, which looked at what people like and dislike about their built environment, queried 1,000 people who live and work in one of six cities: Austin, Texas; Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Sasaki, a Watertown, Mass.-based international interdisciplinary planning and design firm that provides consulting and design services in architecture, landscape architecture, planning and urban design, conducted the online research in May 2014, together with Equation Research, a full-service strategic research agency.

Sixty-five percent of survey participants remember their favorite experience being in a park or on a street; while 17 percent of participants said that they prefer parks and public spaces. New Yorkers said they like their parks and public spaces; whereas Chicagoans admitted they are happiest with small urban parks. Moreover, age is a factor in preference for open space, too, with baby boomers preferring waterfront areas, and millennials and gen Xers being more likely to hang out in a large open park.

In contrast, though, Boston residents admitted that they are least satisfied with their parks and public spaces. Even more surprising is that Bostonians also are very unsatisfied by their local sports scene, despite the strong loyalty and affinity for sports teams in the city. Chicago, on the other hand, is very satisfied with its sports scene, the same as New York.

In terms of a more long-term residence, most urbanites said that they see themselves staying in a city—with a total of 60 percent vowing that they plan on either living where they do now or in a different part of the city. In addition:

  • 16 percent of survey participants said they see themselves still living in the city, but are saving to buy a house outside the city further than five years down the road.
  • 11 percent see themselves moving to the suburbs.
  • 7 percent see themselves moving to a rural area

Other research showed that besides their love for fairs and festivals, Austin residents are more likely to love their trail systems, while New Yorkers are the only ones who prefer large open parks to waterfront areas.

No surprise, too, is that food continues to be a major social, cultural and economic driver. When survey participants were asked what aspects of urban life enchanted them, food continued to turn up in their responses, with 82 percent of urbanites appreciating their city's culinary offerings.

According to the report, open spaces and a high quality public area add significant value, such as the real estate along Central Park in New York. Huge opportunities exist in underutilized spaces to transform them into parks. Often, the spaces are linear, such as New York's High Line and Chicago's Riverwalk. These projects require design innovation and engineering ingenuity, but ultimately provide unique outdoor experiences and a connection between different parts of the city.


  • 46 percent of survey participants encourage community-focused events and attractions.
  • 41 percent support investment in making the waterfront more accessible and appealing.
  • 40 percent would like to see more large parks that support both passive and adven turous activities.
  • 37 percent wish their cities would make streets more pedestrian/bike friendly.
  • 36 percent support adding outdoor music and entertainment venues.
  • 31 percent said they desire more small urban parks (such as for visiting on lunch breaks).

Other survey results showed that many people are drawn to historic buildings, with 30 percent believing that a building's history makes it iconic. Two main characteristics attract people to historic buildings:

  • When people identify a building as historic, it is well-made and full of interesting details.
  • And, it often has a story behind it.

Most people also said that to improve their city's architectural character, they would like to see their city invest in renovating existing historical buildings to retain their character, all while making them more useable.

And, lastly, what did urban residents say when asked what they liked least about living and working in the city? Traffic, of course.

Forty-one percent of survey participants said there is too much traffic, and 23 percent said parking is lacking.