What makes a successful public space?

Studies conducted by Project for Public Spaces (PPS) across thousands of public areas have identified four key elements of a successful public space: Uses & Activities, Comfort & Image, Access & Linkages, and Sociability. (This chart is explained in more detail here.)

Place_Diagram [Converted]

Below we'll explain these four qualities in greater detail and explain how the proposed Irving Commons site at Irving Street between 9th and 10th Avenues might fare in each category.

Access & Linkages

N Judah - torbakhopper - CC smallBy Torbakhopper

How well connected a space is to its surroundings is important. Good public spaces are bordered by interesting and varied attractions such as shops, easily visible, and easy to get to for people of all abilities and modes of transport.

Irving Street suitability: Irving Street between 9th and 10th Avenues looks strong for access and linkages. The location is right next to a major transit line (the N Judah) and several bus lines (43, 44, 6, and 66). The block itself is surrounded by a good variety of businesses (including a bar, restaurants, a grocery store, and a post office) that keeps this street active for many hours of the day. And the street is next to the major 9th & Irving pedestrian area.

Uses & Activities

Giant chess - PharPhoto2By Aaron Butler

The more reasons for people to visit a space, the better; PPS suggests there should be at least ten reasons. A successful public space provides activities at all hours for people of all ages, abilities, genders, and so on. Examples include food, people to meet, art to touch, music, and so on.

Irving Street suitability: This category would be addressed in the building of the space. However, the current street has some good starting points. For instance, restaurants and bars could extend into the street and attract people to sit down and eat/drink. If we add benches, play structures, performance areas, interactive art, and so on, this space could be a winner.

Comfort & Image

Seniors on bench - whitecat sg CCBy Bianca Polak

A good public space should be clearly defined, well-maintained and comfortable, providing different places to sit, and the options of shade and wind-breaks. People should also feel safe at any time of the day.

Irving Street suitability: At 60 ft x 260 ft, this block is a good size, not too large, not too small. Challenges could include how to deal with the summer fog and the wind that blows up Irving Street from the ocean. There is a small but prominent homeless population that may present challenges, although other pedestrian spaces with larger homeless populations have been successful.


Play-San-Jose-Daryl-Davis-CC.jpgBy Daryl Davis

In great public spaces, people bump into friends and neighbors, they hang out there together, and they even strike up conversations with strangers. When these events happen, people feel a stronger attachment to their neighborhood and are more likely to protect it by, for example, addressing antisocial behavior or picking up litter.

Irving Street suitability: There was certainly much sociability evident at the Inner Sunset Sundays events on this block. In addition, the Inner Sunset is known for its village-like qualities where neighbors frequently bump into each other on the street. So, although there's no guarantee, there is evidence this block could function well as a social space.