The Landscape Guide

15.9 The Emotional Colour of Public Open Space

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This essay can be summarized with a colourful exercise. Please buy a plan of the town where you live. If it is a coloured plan, the "parks' will almost certainly be a uniform shade of yellow-green. Urban squares, pedestrian streets, footpaths and surrounding farmland will probably be white. Lay a piece of tracing paper over the plan and reach for your marker pens. All the space to which pedestrians have free access should be shaded with a grey tone. This is the effective public realm. It does not include vehicular space, from which pedestrians are excluded by the danger of losing their limbs or lives. Now examine the grey pattern you have drawn. Those grey lines and blobs need to be enlivened. Which space should be boundless? Which should be bounded? A marker pen can be used to show your proposed boundaries. Within these boundaries, you can have special types of garden for plants, people and things that require protection from the harshness of the city. Outside those boundaries, you can let the people free. It is a good idea to find a map showing what the town was like a hundred years ago. Did it have heaths, woods, meadows, marshes, beautiful rivers or unspoilt beaches? They can be re-created. Bright colours should now be applied to the various categories of bounded and boundless space. My own colouring suggestions are made in the next essay.

I hope this exercise will make you enthusiastic about the potential for developing the public realm and enriching public life. As most of the world's people will soon live in towns, the need for good public space will become a paramount concern in urban planning. When all the plans and data are stored in a GIS, specialized maps will be available for cyclists, swimmers, shoppers, ornithologists, campers, walkers, nut gatherers and others too.