By Camilo Lopez, Jr. Urban Designer
The art of transforming a space into a place. Walking along the waterfront under a row of shade trees, buying fresh seafood from the local fisherman at the marina, sitting at a sidewalk café listening to a street performer, greeting your neighbor sitting on the porch, having dinner with a loved one under a string of romantic lights hung between historical buildings, contemplating the sunrise at the park; all are part of placemaking for a town in Palm Beach County, Florida. The Town of Lake Park’s new form-based code promotes placemaking such as this through its new regulatory framework.
Placemaking FormulaSpace (physical environment) + People (life) + Purpose (program/activity) + Identity (uniqueness/ character) = Place
Building inclusive, healthy, functional, and productive towns/cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today, and there are no easy solutions, but a key part of the puzzle lies right at the heart of the world’s urban areas: its public spaces.
A January 2017 article published in Smart Cities Dive states that “Public space is more than just a pleasant amenity in our towns and cities, it is an important connection between our homes, businesses, institutions, and the rest of the world“. In recent years, the importance of public space has grown and the concept of “placemaking” has come to the forefront of many urban centers.
Placemaking is a people-centered approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. This practice capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, vision, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being.
The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a non-profit organization promoting placemaking, asserts that most great places, whether a grand downtown plaza or humble neighborhood park, share four key attributes:
- They are accessible and well connected to other important places in the area.
- They are comfortable and project a good image.
- They attract people to participate in activities there.
- They are sociable environments in which people want to gather and visit again and again.
PPS also describes a philosophy of “The Power of 10+” – the notion that cities of all sizes should have at least 10 destinations where people want to be in order to attract new residents, businesses, and investment, as well as the people who already live there.
Based on these premises, the Town of Lake Park, with the help of RMA experts, undertook a process to establish a new land development code with the purpose of creating a framework that promotes a community focused on the pedestrian experience with streets that are comfortable, accessible, entertaining, and safe. For example, by having defined routes and with the purpose of being active, the buildings must be close to the street, they must provide multiple activities on the ground floor, they must provide weather protection in the form of an overhang and provide tables and chairs on a wide sidewalk.
With Lake Park, every decision that was made and established as a regulation in the code of the town was in consideration of the kind of ‘daily activities’ that embodied their character and identity. For example, along Federal Highway (main commercial corridor). The opportunity to dine inside a building while looking at the street and see people on the sidewalk walking and dining, is translated to the minimum requirement of wall transparency in the code.
Our team also had a very special opportunity to propose and create a Waterfront Marina ‘place’. The idea was to create a flexible public space where the community can meet and enjoy public art, performances, artists, live music, cafes, dining, etc. The code clearly established the parameters for this area to become a pleasant and unique public space for its residents and visitors, providing social and economic benefits to the community.
Another placemaking aspect of the new Lake Park code for the Federal Highway Mixed-Use District is the transition between the single-family homes on 2nd Street and the increased intensity towards the Federal Highway Corridor and the Marina Waterfront. It is important to classify and propose certain elements depending on the context in which we find ourselves. As the character of 2nd Street is low in intensity and only residential, our experienced team proposed to maintain, and where possible improve, this environment through the code to create a family place which is pleasant and safe with the architecture that reflects the towns feel.
Furthermore, in the process of creating the code with the idea of making a ‘place’ that has multiple options for different people of all ages and for a variety of uses, the proposed code addressed a very special space in front and around Kelsey Park. This park is a gem that has the potential to provide a local and friendly environment for its residents and visitors. The components of the park as a public space have the basis to create a place; such as open spaces, space for outdoor activities, sports, having an amphitheater for special events that bring together the community, walking in front of the water, sitting on the grass and watching the boats go by, and a local weekly fresh market. In addition, around the park we found a very special building typology that consists of buildings with historical significance along Federal Highway and wide lots along the main downtown thoroughfares with the potential of having active use on the ground floor, with offices and housing above. A space with people, programming and identity.
Set the right built environment first. It is important to understand that if the built environment framework has the right basis to make a place where people feel comfortable, that has a direct relationship with the sense of a community, with the unity of the community, with a successful place, with the sense of belonging and with economic stability.
When you create a place with the components of space, people, programming and identity, inevitably that will generate more living spaces which translates into more people, more businesses and more jobs, making a city, and in this case the Town of Lake Park, a successful place to live, work, and play.