Don’t forget the bells and whistles when planning a new gathering space in your community. Amenities not only provide user comfort and functionality but can also add fun, identity, style and character to a project.
The Project for Public Spaces introduced the “Power of Ten” which argues that places thrive when users have a range of reasons (10+) to be there. These might include a place to sit, games to play, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet. Ideally, some of these activities will be unique to that particular place, reflecting the culture and history of the surrounding community.
Adding a variety of amenities fulfills the Power of Ten goal. Most amenities are usually benches, kiosks, and murals but there are a lot of other more unique ideas out there as well as ways to make these types of amenities pop and stand out.
Some are quite whimsical and fun. For example, Downtown Decorations provides a variety of lightweight and durable fiberglass giant flowers, umbrellas, butterflies and bumble bees for use in public spaces. They suggest to combine motifs to create excitement and draw traffic to your site.
And why have plain benches that look like any other bench. The Kankakee-Iroquois-Ford Association of REALTORS® used an NAR Placemaking Grant to build and design benches for their local Farmer’s Market in downtown Kankakee. Local high school students built 10 benches and local artists designed and painted the benches with historical themes.
Many public spaces also take advantage of landscaping and plantings to add some natural ambiance. Again, be creative. In Boston, the St. James Avenue garden features multi-dimensional G-O2 Living Walls that draws you into the space. These “green” walls provide a buffer between the office tower and the park. The 4-sided columns are especially unique and create very stunning focal points for the park. Plant Connection built the walls and the park was designed by Copley Wolff.
Interactive art is, well, a great way to get folks to interact within a public space in a very fun way. Cloud Gate, aka “the Bean”, located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, provides a distorted reflection of the city and offers an opportunity for visitors to capture their own reflection. What fun!
Lighting can not only provide the opportunity to create a pleasant and safe environment but one that encourages pedestrian activity at night and adds to the aesthetics. In Citygarden in St. Louis, three fountains are interspersed throughout the park combining with sculpture and lush plant life to create a unique visitor experience. At night, the spray plaza offers up entertainment of a different sort - a water and light show where LED lights around each jet remain on for an enchanting illuminated display.
Water features are always a favorite. Romare Bearden Park is an iconic destination for locals and tourists in Uptown Charlotte, NC. Throughout the 5.4 acre signature park are opportunities for creative playfulness, including a dedicated area for children, called the Children’s Muse, which features a whimsical splashpad and interactive art forms.
And don’t forget about sound. Interactive instruments provide an opportunity for children of all ages and abilities to bring out their creative expression. They enhance group play and can foster a sense of belonging in a public space. Percussion Play is on manufacturer of outdoor musical instruments. They want their instruments to add harmony, soul and energy to inclusive and accessible outdoor play environments across the world.
One of the easiest amenities to add is Little Free Libraries, which are not only fun but also functional by inspiring a love of reading. Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds. Take a look at the Little Free Library at the historic Lynchburg Community Market in Lynchburg, VA. Lynchburg also has Little Free Libraries at the entrance to the Blackwater Creek Trail and at Riverside Park.
Note: As I write this post, I am seeing that Little Free Libraries are now being used to stock food, not books, as neighbors try to help others in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
And, why not combine art and function. In Washington, DC’s central business district, the Golden Triangle BID has installed six artistic bike racks, which not only meets the demands of parking but does so in a in a fun and creative way. The first artistic bike rack, “Bike Here”, spans 13 feet, holds ten bikes and adds a splash of color and vitality to the Dupont Circle Metro station’s south entrance. The “Clip Art” bike rack on Pennsylvania Avenue accommodates six bikes and brightens up the business district with a playful take on a standard office supply. Both “Clip Art” and “Bike Here” designs were solicited through a call to artists and selected by a panel of representatives from the District government, the Golden Triangle community, and local artists and biking organizations.
Spring is upon us and it’s time for you to get inspired. If you are just getting started on a project, you may want to team up with a local artist which can be a great way to not only expose up and coming talent in your community but also create a unique amenity that will be fun and creative for everyone to enjoy.