Healthy Spaces & Places Healthy Spaces & Places

Development Types

Urban Squares

 Forrest Place, Perth
Forrest Place, Perth
Source: TPG Town Planning and Urban Design

Well designed urban squares have a number of benefits to the users as well as the urban setting in which they are located.  These range from personal and community health to encouraging economic investment.

Spaces that offer cultural and social activities will result in enhanced social interaction, community development and foster increased levels of activity within urban squares.  Spaces will be more likely to be used if other people are also using that space.  Activities such as people meeting, having conversations and passive contacts (observing or listening to other people), will encourage others to linger. These activities can occur spontaneously as people move about within the same space. 

Health and Planning Fact
Social activities produce the strongest levels of ownership of the space and correspondingly maximum concern with ensuring other people in the space are safe.  Social inclusion can also contribute to an improved sense of community and hence improved mental health (McLeod 2004).

Design suggestions for urban squares:

  • Strategically locating urban squares at active transport nodes in activity centres will help ensure the space enjoys a “critical mass” of activity.
  • A strong sense of connection between the urban square and the ground floor of surrounding buildings can be created through verandahs, bi-folding doors, windows and direct doorways.
  • Locate active (day and night time) uses around or adjacent to urban square to maximize usage.
  • Elements such as quality formal (benches) and informal seating (steps) and lighting incorporated into the design can contribute to the squares identity and character.
  • Trees can contribute greatly to the attraction and character of a space by providing shade and good access to winter sun where winters are cool. Subject to careful species selection they can also offer seasonal variety and, allow people to hear birdsong etc

Click here for more detailed information and practice advice on health and planning for Urban Squares.


Download Full Text
Urban Squares.pdf


Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)

Project for Public Places

Urban Design Compendium - A Thriving Public Realm

Related Design Principles

Safety and Surveillance

Social Inclusion 



Last updated on 24th June, 2009

Sponsors This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.