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APA’s 2008 Great Public Spaces




With the exception of the native woods in the northwest corner of Central Park and the rock outcrops, the 843-acre park was man-made.
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The American Planning Association has named its 2008 list of “Great Public Spaces.” The 10 locales are not ranked, but just listed alphabetically. They represent what the APA calls “a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.”

Central Park, NYC—The Gold Standard for U.S. City Parks

Central Park is a retreat for the city dwellers in this most condensed and populated city in the U.S. It needs no introduction to landscape architects, of course, and is probably the most emulated park in the country. N.Y. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe notes: “This year marks the 150th anniversary of Olmsted and Vaux’s Greensward plan, which set the standard for park design throughout the United States.”

Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and Calvert Vaux submitted their winning design entry for the park in 1858. The plan included sunken roads with landscape grading and to avoid physical and visual disruption of traffic.

Through grading and underground drainage engineering, swamps became “natural” lakes. Soil was brought in from New Jersey to create meadows and plants introduced to create lush woodland and “wild gardens.” The design was bucolic but contained formal elements like the Mall and Bethesda Terrace.






The premier shopping and dining destination in Vermont is Church Street Marketplace in Burlington.


Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, Vermont

At least 200 outdoor pedestrian malls were built in the U.S. since the late 1960s, yet only 30 or so remain in operation. The premier shopping and dining destination in Vermont is Church Street Marketplace in Burlington. It combines Victorian and Art Deco structures, thriving retail trade, well maintained streets and walkways and strong community support. Each year some three visitors come here to shop, eat, meet and greet, mark milestones, or just pass the time of day. Fountains, public art, and locally quarried boulders enhance the streetscape.






Mellon Square is purportedly the oldest surviving public space in the U.S. above a parking garage.


Mellon Square, Pittsburgh, Penn.—Pittsburgh’s Enduring Downtown Oasis

Built more than a half-century ago by the Mellon family’s civic philanthropy and efforts to invest and revitalize downtown Pittsburgh, Mellon Square is one of the country’s most enduring and outstanding places. The square has many historic and architecturally significant buildings. It was built at a time when cars began to dominate American roads. Mellon Square is purportedly the oldest surviving public space above a parking garage. Listed as a National Historic Place in 1985, the square’s use of tree and bush planters are a forerunner of today’s green roof designs, providing pervious surfaces to absorb water and decrease polluted runoff.






The Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon.


Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon—Portland’s Downtown Living Room

It was a parking lot during the 1970s, but Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland is now the downtown “living room.” It integrated transit and set the precedent for revitalization projects in Portland. More than 300 activities take place in the square each year, making it one of the most-visited public sites in the state.






Santa Monica Beach stretches 3.5 miles along the Southern California coast from Malibu to Venice.


Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica, California—Access and Activism

Santa Monica Beach stretches 3.5 miles along the Southern California coast from Malibu to Venice. The APA designation is for the beach’s “commitment to accessibility, environmental stewardship and historic preservation, and maintaining its distinctive character.” The Palisades Bluffs loom to the east; the Pacific and the boardwalk to the west. The beach is a series of linear parks, with playgrounds, pedestrian and bicycle pathways, a restored historic pergola and gazebo, native landscaping, and, of course, palm trees.






Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, a public living area and transit hub.


Union Station, Washington, D.C.—Gateway to Washington

Designed at the turn of the 20th century as a monumental gateway for those arriving in Washington, D.C., by train, Union Station a public living area and a transit hub. It is a place where city workers take their lunch breaks alongside members of Congress. APA points to its “vibrant social and welcoming atmosphere, its transportation options, its historic position in the L’Enfant Plan for Washington, and its sustained civic support and revitalization after periods of decline.”






Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina runs along the Cooper River.


Waterfront Park, Charleston, South Carolina—Charleston’s Outdoor Cathedral

To Charleston, South Carolina Mayor Joseph Riley, a city can’t have too many parks. The favorite park here is the 13-acre Waterfront Park along the Cooper River. Completed in May 1990, the park offers quiet places to sit and view the Cooper River, watch children play in the interactive spray and water fountains, or stroll along the park’s waterfront promenade under a canopy of mature live oaks.

APA notes the welcoming design, public accessibility, integration of land and water and its role in the revitalization of downtown Charleston.






Waterplace Park and Riverwalk combines cobblestone walkways, plazas, pedestrian bridges and gondolas.


Waterplace Park, Providence, Rhode Island—Venice-like Ambiance

Waterplace Park and Riverwalk combines cobblestone walkways, plazas, pedestrian bridges and gondolas, intertwined with the Moshassuck, Woonasquatucket and Providence rivers. The park and riverwalk have been central to the revitalization of one of the largest and fastest growing cities in New England. APA notes the careful planning, strong collaboration and commitment to transform a network of attractive and inviting parks and walkways.






West Side Market offers shoppers a neighborhood gathering place and diverse, international fresh food market.


West Side Market, Cleveland, Ohio—Culinary and Cultural Landmark

A respite from supermarket shopping, the West Side Market offers shoppers a neighborhood gathering place and diverse, international fresh food market. APA notes the engaging atmosphere, its role in the community and stimulating nearby commercial and residential activity.

Built by the city of Cleveland from 1907 to 1912, some 100 vendor stands are located under a 44-foot high vaulted brick herringbone bond ceiling. At the base of each arch leading to the main area are decorative terra cotta reliefs depicting produce and animals. Outside, an additional 82 vendors are located in the Produce Arcade, a subtle “L”-shaped structure that contrasts dramatically with the prominence of the main building.






Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, says APA, is a “majestic, man-made urban forest in the heart of a historic commercial district.”


Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, Prescott, Arizona—“Jewel” of Downtown

The Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, says APA, is a “majestic, man-made urban forest in the heart of a historic commercial district.” For more than 140 years it has been the area’s gathering place. (It) “exemplifies how citizen support, planning and design, and grounds management and maintenance can create a treasured urban space,” says APA. The plaza is rooted in Prescott’s original town site plat, which was recorded in 1864.


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June 26, 2019, 12:03 pm PDT

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