Cities that top the lists of “Best Places to Live” have this in common: positive community engagement.
Their public spaces—parks and playgrounds, rec centers and public squares, libraries and beaches—are full of people. The communities surrounding those places tend to be strong and vibrant. The “Best Cities to Live In” boast clean and well-maintained streets, low crime, and grassroots efforts by the community to look out for one another in various ways.
Achieving that sort of community engagement and positivity can seem elusive–or even a bit idealistic. After all, you can only provide opportunities for engagement, you can’t force it. Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can improve community engagement so your neighborhood, town or city can become a place people want to visit and love to live.
Great public spaces play an important role in improving community engagement and well-being. According to some fascinating research by The Brookings Institution, a community that makes good use of its public spaces is more likely to “enhance community well-being—producing positive health, environmental, economic, and social outcomes for residents who can access them.”
Great Public Spaces Benefit Individuals and Communities
First, let’s get on the same page about what makes a public space “great.”
The National Association of Realtors says great public spaces are “accessible to people, engage the public with activities, are comfortable, project a good image and foster a sense of community.” The UW Arboretum in Madison, WI is one example of a great public space that meets this definition. For example, the Arboretum offers meeting space for local organizations and businesses, guided K-12 field trips, well-maintained trails, and beautiful gardens for people to enjoy.
Public spaces meet several basic needs on the individual level: exercise, entertainment, and education. Playgrounds and dog parks give people and puppies a place to play and let loose. Pedestrian malls and libraries give people spaces to shop and learn. Parks and trails offer even more opportunities to be in nature, so people can decompress and exercise.
In urban areas, this kind of public green space is essential. “Urban green space, such as parks, playgrounds, and residential greenery, can promote mental and physical health and reduce morbidity and mortality in urban residents by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation, stimulating social cohesion, supporting physical activity, and reducing exposure to air pollutants, noise and excessive heat,” as noted in the book Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change Adaptation in Urban Areas.
On a community level, the benefits of public spaces also fall into three categories: social, economic and civic.
Social Benefits to Communities
Public spaces draw people together in unique ways. As people gather, they interact and build relationships. As they keep interacting in these public spaces, they have the opportunity to get to know one another, to feel comfortable with one another. Their sense of safety and security increases because they know and are known by others.
This makes people feel like they belong, which in turn combats feelings of isolation and loneliness. In this way, public spaces are essential to the mental health of community members.
Economic and Civic Benefits to Communities
The economic and civic benefits of public spaces to whole communities include:
Higher property valuesWhen communities maintain and make good use of their public spaces, their homes and neighborhoods become more desirable.
Increased improvements to surrounding infrastructure and private sector growth.When the community’s homes and neighborhoods become more desirable, more people and businesses want to be a part of those communities and more resources are directed toward them and toward making the surrounding roads, buildings and other infrastructure better.
Increased ownership and agency.People who can easily get out to play, celebrate, and do things together in their community are also more likely to be civic-minded. They find more ways to be involved in the decision-making around their neighborhoods’ public spaces.
Ways to Increase Use of Public Spaces
It’s evident that public spaces benefit people and their communities–when they are used. Empty facilities and unused parks? Not so much. So how can you ensure that your public spaces in your community are used enough for your community to realize these benefits?
1. Involve more community members in the governance of public spaces.
According to the Brookings Institute study, “when place governance entities meaningfully involve community members in the planning of public spaces, such engagement helps generate a sense of community and ownership, which in turn contributes to greater use of public spaces."
This is similar to the concept of homeownership vs. rental: when people own a home they have the motivation and incentive to invest more time and resources into maintaining it. Likewise, when they are invested in the creation of public spaces, they’re more likely to use and appreciate them.
2. Invest in maintenance and upkeep.
Public spaces need to be pleasant so people feel comfortable and enjoy visiting them. According to the University of Kansas Center for Community Health and Development, “Good places for interaction are places where people – often from many parts of the community and/or diverse backgrounds – meet naturally and interact comfortably and often pleasurably because of the nature or attraction of the space and/or the activities associated with it.”
When it comes to maintenance and upkeep of public spaces, expensive renovations or large investments of time and resources aren’t needed to see results. Small changes and improvements, such as picking up litter, can make a big difference.
3. Increase awareness & accessibility of public spaces with technology.
People can only use a great space if they know about it! Think about the last time you were looking for a place to host your party or event. You considered places that were known to you in some way: word of mouth, a billboard, a postcard in the mail. Maybe you vetted the place with friends and family or looked on Yelp before trying to reserve it.
Odds are, the rest of the venue rental process made you feel like a time traveler – going back to the 1900s when people had to make phone calls during business hours or mail a check to secure a date.
That old-fashioned way of finding and renting available spaces involved lots of paperwork, phone calls, and frantic trips just to wait in line at a municipal office somewhere. It was frustrating for community members who wanted easier access to the spaces their tax dollars paid for. And it was frustrating for facility managers who got stuck doing unnecessary administrative work. Managing incoming reservation requests and phone calls took time away from promoting their venues or planning community-wide events.
With such a dated or confusing method of reserving a space, public spaces aren’t used to their fullest potential. The community misses out on the benefits that space could provide.
Thankfully, there are modern, easy-to-use solutions to public space rentals!
You can boost your rentals—thereby boosting community engagement—by making the rental process easier for everyone involved.
A good facility rental solution will simplify the process of finding, renting, and hosting a space. Ideally, all of a community’s available spaces would be hosted in one easy-to-search location. It should increase the community members' engagement by making public spaces easier to find and rent. And the best solution will also reduce the administrative tasks facility managers handle so they can focus on the community members.
Spotz Can Help Improve Public Space Rentals
Spotz is the modern community reservations solution that cities are turning to when they want to improve public space use and engagement with their community members. Spotz offers an easy way for municipalities, businesses, and organizations to list and manage their rentable spaces, while ensuring community members can quickly access and reserve them.
To learn more about how Spotz could help your community’s use of public spaces, please contact us or watch our demo here!