All public spaces are not created equal

Walking along the Waterfront today, you can see plenty of people sitting down anywhere they can, playing Pokemon GO. That’s what brings people out of their home or office today and interact. But, aside from the game’s nature, why Waterfront?


The way we design space is shaped by our fundamental desire and behaviour, and therefore we tend to separate space for different functions such as work, domestic, rest, and so on. Public space, our topic of this blog, is the moments in-between buildings that provide the setting where people can interact with each other, engage in different activities, or simply take a break. These are often accommodated with various fundamental architectural and design criteria – light, materials, textures, openness, access. When these values are all met, public space tends to attract more people and provide them with numerous functions.




Simcoe Wavedeck at Waterfront welcomes tourists, pedestrians, office workers and more (Source: Waterfront Toronto)

The go-to spot for a stroll and gathering

Waterfront, for instance, provides abundant light and open space facing the Toronto Islands to welcome anyone coming to the area. Its wooden boardwalk and brick path allow the full access while parkettes with trees and grass serve as seating space without actually needing a bench.


Day ExperientialMiami Floating Stage by Studio Jonah

Location can be mobile!

Studio Jonah’s Miami Floating Stage project creates public space for a whole new variety of activities. Its nature as a floating stage gives it full access to any location along the shore while serving numerous purposes and needs, such as a performance stage.



imageLunch break overwatched by cows (Source: The Globe and Mail)

Less is more?

The plaza surrounded by Toronto Dominion Towers is designed as a simple, open public space in the middle of busy Financial District. Despite its lighting and materiality with abundant grass plots, however, the overly spacious plaza questions its efficiency and effectiveness as a public space. Being surrounded by tall towers gives a sense of being watched and restricted, constraining people to engage in activities or stay long. (A classic documentary Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William Whyte explains a similar phenomenon).


18372-61791Linear Park beneath Gardiner Expressway (Source: The Star)

Brighter future of public space, hopefully

Last year, the City of Toronto announced that new public space will be developed underneath the Gardiner Expressway. Its goal is to create a cultural, interactive and vibrant community hub, but it’s a question whether it can successfully become one despite noise, pollution and the lack of fundamental criteria we’ve discussed: most importantly light, openness and access. Can it become the next hotspot for a weekend stroll or gatherings? Share your thoughts!