High Performance Public Spaces: A Tool for Building More Resilient and Sustainable Communities

by David Barth, PhD, ASLA, RLA, AICP, CPRP

Kissimmee Lakefront Park
Kissimmee Lakefront Park, a High-Performance Public Space / image: Michael Brown, AECOM

Most design firms and communities are embracing the concepts of sustainability and resiliency. However, as with all ambitious initiatives, implementation is the greatest challenge. Three actions landscape architects can take to put theory into practice are to:

  1. plan and design every park and open space project as a High-Performance Public Space (HPPS),
  2. plan and design parks and open spaces as part of an integrated public realm, and
  3. help create a culture that fosters the adoption of innovation in the planning and design of public spaces.

The concept of a HPPS evolved from my doctoral research at the University of Florida, where I was trying to determine the factors that led to the adoption of innovation in the planning and design of public spaces. More specifically, I wanted to learn why some public agencies and design consultants adopt sustainable design principles in their parks and public space projects, and others don’t. In order to find the answers, I first needed to develop criteria to identify examples of successful projects to study, which I referred to as High Performance Public Spaces.

I defined a HPPS as “any publicly accessible space that generates economic, environmental, and social sustainability benefits for their local community.” A HPPS can be a park, trail, square, green, natural area, plaza, or any other element of the public realm that generates all three types of benefits. Working with a group of over 20 sustainability experts, we developed 25 criteria for a HPPS including economic criteria such as “the space sustains or increases property values;” environmental criteria such as “the space uses energy, water, and material resources efficiently;” and social criteria such as “the space provides places for formal and informal social gathering, art, performances, and community or civic events.” A space had to meet at least 80% of the 25 criteria in order to qualify as a HPPS. The full list of criteria is shown below.

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