Plazas, Squares & Public Gardens
A sunny Sunday afternoon in April looking out over San Francisco's Dolores Park with the city skyline in the distance. Well over a thousand people were enjoying the sun that day.
According to Webster's Dictionary, a plaza is defined as, "a public square or open space in a city or town." With more detail it defines a square as, "an open area or plaza ... formed by the meeting or intersecting of two or more streets and often planted with grass, trees, etc." A public garden is defined as, "space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc., used as a park or other public recreation area." Wiktionary calls a plaza, "an open area used for gathering in a city, often having small trees and sitting benches."
Kites in smog shrouded Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
These definitions are pretty much interchangeable. Although the names differ, the spaces so variously titled are similar. Jointly they describe a public open space dedicated to social activity of the city. Such spaces will continue to exist in the future city as they have for millennia in the past.
Criteria for Success
More important than what a public space is called is its actual success as a public space enjoyed by the people in the city. Many cities have attempted to create such spaces to bring people together. Not all have succeeded as a public gathering place. Too many are notorious for their emptiness rather than famous as a vibrant gathering place.
Pedestrian way entering Plaza Grande in Quito, Ecuador
The search here is for a commonality among successful urban open spaces. What have urban philosophers and supporters of urban spaces discovered on the subject? What are the attributes which they have found lead to success?
The best sources I have found for the public space attributes of success are three urban philosophers: Jane Jacobs, Camillo Sitte, Christopher Alexander, and the Project for Public Spaces.. What follow are these attributes culled from these four sources.