1. Lively streets and squares

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This article is the first in the series 25 building blocks to create better streets, neighbourhoods, and cities.Read how lively places contribute to the quality of streets and squares. Follow the link below to find an overview of all articles.
The public space is like a stage. The Dutch architect and urban planner Sjoerd Soeters, known for the Amsterdam Houthavens, likes to say that. He meant that it is the inhabitants and visitors of cities who provide the liveliness, but that streets and squares must ensure that they come. This apparently worked out well on the Rue Sainte-Catherine in Bordeaux (photo above right).

Shopping facilities and catering

Research shows that the quality of the shopping facilities, also for 'fun shoppers', is still the main driver to visit the center of cities. A varied catering offer follows in second place (photo bottom left). A welcome addition are spaces with a non-commercial purpose, such as museums, galleries, art lending, information centers of municipalities or companies, etcetera.


Sidewalks use to be too narrow, due to the perceived need to accommodate motorized traffic. A sidewalk in central parts of the city must be at least 20 feet wide, such as that of Fillmore Street, San Francisco (top left photo). In that case, sufficient space is offered for greenery, free passage for passers-by and tables or chairs, billboards, and street vendors, who make a welcome contribution to the liveliness of the street.

Opportunity to rest

Places that invite you to linger increase the attractiveness of the area and the chance of unforeseen encounters (collision spaces). These can be terraces, but also non-commercial places such as tree-lined squares with benches, games, buskers (acoustic), an ice cream cart etcetera. One of the most famous examples is the Spanish Steps in Rome. Such spaces usually arise 'by themselves', but they can also be designed as such, for instance, squares in Barcelona and Shanghai (photos bottom center and bottom right). By no means it is certain that they will also be used as such.

Minimize traffic noise

In the more centrally located parts of a city, a certain level of sound is part of the experience, but traffic noise is a source of nuisance and drives away visitors. Through traffic is not compatible with all other (inner) urban functions; destination traffic must be reduced, channeled and its speed limited. Noise at events must also be reduced to an acceptable level for visitors, residents, and passers-by, knowing that events attract many people, but can also repel others as well.

Places with a different character

In an atmospheric city center you will find quiet places and others where it is bustling at the same time. Those quiet places can be small parks with playgrounds and benches to rest, but also publicly accessible courtyards of residential blocks.

Exploiting iconic places

Most cities have places with special characteristics. These are often historic or modern buildings, monuments, fountains etcetera. Sometimes it is a well-known square, such as the Vrijthof in Maastricht. Sometimes it is also the boulevard along a river or special viewpoints (photo top middle) that both city dwellers and visitors like to include in their route and where they linger for a while.


All parts of a city with a central function should be amply supplied with art. For this purpose, also (temporarily) empty shops can be used, which also serve as an information center. Think of art objects on the street (possibly replica’s) and fascinating paintings on blind walls, which number must be limited by the way. In the evening, light art can be imagined on the facades of buildings surrounding streets and squares.