Public Spaces

By Allison Ude

Public spaces are a primary ingredient in a good neighborhood. In New Urbanism and Traditional Town Planning, public spaces play a key role in the design of the neighborhood, and, after they are built, in the neighborhood’s community and social life. A public space is a common area of the neighborhood that is available for use and enjoyment by everyone in the community whether resident, worker, or visitor. There should be public space within each neighborhood or within a 5 minute walk of every dwelling.  A public space can be a park, playground, plaza, square, garden or green.

Most of us have probably heard the statement “Westhaven’s lots are too small.” In New Urban design, it is not about the size of your lot or the amount of property you give up personally, but about the far greater amount of beautiful, useable property (the public space) you receive in return. In Westhaven, we have playgrounds, greens, parks, paths and more. These public spaces in Westhaven encourage residents to be outside. Additionally, having a place to go, such as the playground, or the pond to fish, supports a greater sense of community through frequent and spontaneous social contact. It also makes the neighborhood safer through the presence of resident observers on foot.

Here are some examples of public spaces.


A well designed neighborhood meets the needs of all its residents, children included. Placing playgrounds in close proximity to all dwellings is important. When playgrounds are close to home, kids can go play by themselves – they don’t have to be driven to the playgrounds—and they are still close enough to hear when Mom calls them for dinner! Also, they get to play with other kids instead of being restricted to their own fenced-in backyards. Playgrounds should be interspersed within residential areas, a short walking distance from dwellings. In New Urbanism, a good guideline is to place playgrounds within one eighth of a mile of every dwelling. And, of course, the playground should be suitable for several different age groups. This means different sizes of swings, slides, climbing bars, etc.


The Lexicon of the New Urbanism defines greens as medium-sized open spaces available for unstructured recreation that are surrounded by the fronts of buildings. The landscaping consists of grassy areas and trees, naturalistically disposed and requiring only limited maintenance. [i] The green in front of the clubhouse and Acadia Park are examples of greens in Westhaven.


A square is usually the size of a block, surrounded by the fronts of buildings. It is a more formal public space that can have paved walks, lawns, trees and civic buildings .Founders Square is such a pace in Westhaven. [ii]


Parks are large open spaces available for recreation; they are usually located at a neighborhood edge and are fronted by buildings.  The landscaping comprises paved paths and trails, some open lawn, trees, and open shelters, all naturalistically disposed and requiring limited maintenance.[iii]


A plaza is a public space at the intersection of important streets that is enfronted by buildings[iv]. It us typically used for civic or commercial activities.

How to Design Public Spaces

The existing conditions of a site can determine where open spaces should be in the community.  Making use of significant bodies of water and tree stands as the public space allows a community to hold on to and enjoy the special, natural sites.  The best sites should be reserved for public spaces so they can be enjoyed by everyone in the community. These kinds of sites are hilltops, sites next to bodies or water, or terminated vistas.

Buildings must have their front facade facing the public space as opposed to having the rear, private facade backing up to it. Public spaces that are accessible to the public help provide a sense of place and contribute to the spirit of community.  If these spaces are in the rear of a private dwelling, such as behind someone’s back yard, it does not feel like it belongs to the community.  Such areas in the rear of a dwelling give the feeling that the public is borrowing the amenity from the home owner.

Public spaces should be designed based on their location in the Transect. The Transect is a tool that divides the human habitat into zones according to a rural or urban continuum. In more urban areas of a development the most formal type of public space, plazas and greens, are appropriate. In the sub-urban and rural areas, more natural open space is appropriate. Ben Crenshaw, Vice President of Landscape Architecture at Southern Land Company says that the public spaces in Westhaven have been planned and designed according to the transect. Within a 5 minute walk of every dwelling in Westhaven there is a neighborhood center- some kind of public space. Ben said, “For open spaces to be successful, they have to be in the right place to begin with.” We have a wide variety of public spaces in Westhaven – our parks, paths, the fire pit, the lake and future lakefront, and even the cemetery. Ben said that the urban public spaces will have more hardscape, but rural spaces will have a more organic design. He mentioned the pond on Grassmere Hill as an example of one of the rural public spaces.

Ben said that Southern Land Company has used the Transect as a guide not just in terms of the design of the parks, but also in terms of the kinds of activities that can take place. Think of it as the Transect of Recreation. Certain kinds of activities are more appropriate in urban areas and others are more appropriate in rural areas. He has also tried to layer the activities at each public space. For instance, at the Pearl Street park, there’s a playground, a pond for fishing, and a creek for playing in. The fire pit and another playground are situated together.

You have probably heard that Founders Square, with its Fountain, was modeled after Forsyth Park in Savannah. While talking with Ben, I found out that the Chess Park was modeled after Bryant Park in New York City. Bryant Park also has moveable tables and chairs giving citizens the chance to “affect your own environment” Ben says. He said “We don’t want to tell people what to do. We want to be able to make sure people use their imaginations”.

We can also look forward to some kind of public gathering area to be built in the town center. Southern Land Company has modeled Westhaven’s Town Center after the village of Pinehurst, NC. Ben said, “Pinehurst is a great model for a very relaxed town center. We are trying to do something very organic, something that seems to have evolved over time”.

Parks, greens and other open spaces have the ability to strengthen the relationship of the built elements in a community. They also provide public places where all people can meet on equal footing and strengthen the bonds of community.  Overall, quality public open space benefits the community in many ways.


The Lexicon of the New Urbanism

[i] The Lexicon of the New Urbanism. Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. Version 3.0. March , 2002

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] Ibid


1-Pizza in Rome – A piazza in Rome – a great example of a plaza.

2-Bryant Park – Bryan Park in NYC. Bryant Park served as an inspiration for Acadia Park

3-Grassmere  – The pond on Grassmere. This is one of Westhaven’s less formal open spaces.

4-Founders Square – Founders Square – one of Westhaven’s formal open spaces

5-Rosemary Beach –  A Green at Rosemary Beach, FL

6-Lenox Village – This is a square at Lenox Village, a TND in Nashville.

This website is the property of Diane Balciar who is a contracted agent of Kerr & Co Realty and is in no way affiliated with Westhaven Realty or Southern Land Company. Westhaven is the registered trademark owned by Southern Land Company, LLC.