Cars clogged the streets of Borehamwood, England, an outlying suburb of London, for decades. But in the mid-1990s, the town added new pedestrian-only areas to its center.
The change transformed the town, according to Esther Kurland, the director of Urban Design London, a nonprofit that connects urban designers and planners in the city.
“This was one of the first ‘traffic calming’ shared space schemes in the country,” Kurland tells Business Insider. “And I was fascinated in how the behavior of both drivers and pedestrians changed.”
Borehamwood is just one example of the way innovative public space can improve the lives of an area’s inhabitants. To find more, we reached out to urban designers and planners around the world. They told us about spaces that have been game-changers for cities, that inspired them to go into the field, and that they simply find stunning.
Here are 18 of the world’s most beautiful parks, libraries, streets, and plazas, according to people who design them for a living.
Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois.
“It was clearly a game-changer, not only for Chicago and the real estate that surrounds the park, but for its influence on cities everywhere,” says Carol Coletta, the VP of Community and National Initiatives for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Coletta manages millions of dollars annually in grants for city design, and says Millennium Park is the ideal public space. Intended to celebrate the second millennium, the 25-acre park hosts public art and events.
“Lurie Garden, tucked in the park’s southeast corner, is one of my favorite places in the world that somehow manages to remain deeply calming in the midst of the chaos of the larger park,” she says.
Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bordering an urban beach, Spruce Street Harbor Park features colorful lights at night and hammocks for lounging.
It “was intended to be a temporary intervention — really a desperate move for a very tough location separated from Philadelphia’s Old City by a wide and busy road,” Coletta explains. “But it keeps going and going because people keep coming and coming. It is a simple, loving intervention whose design elements have been widely copied.”
The central square in Seaside, Florida.
Building a new residential housing development that actually feels like a small town is almost impossible, says Steve Mouzon, the founder of Mouzon Design.
But the founder and developer of Seaside, Florida did just that, using public space to foster a new independent, tight-knit community.
“The developer had the audacity to build a town square, with a post office, a grocery, a bookstore, and a collection of other restaurants and shops with apartments above,” Mouzon explains. “Never mind that the post office wasn’t a sanctioned US Post Office, but rather ganged mailboxes installed inside a tiny civic building. Because the mailboxes wore civic clothing, people behaved in a civic way. And even though Seaside has never been incorporated as a town, people nonetheless behave in neighborly ways.”