Access & Linkages:
You can judge the accessibility of a place by its connections to its
surroundings, both visual and physical. A successful public space is easy to get
to and get through; it is visible both from a distance and up close. The edges
of a space are important as well: For instance, a row of shops along a street is
more interesting and generally safer to walk by than a blank wall or empty lot.
Accessible spaces have a high parking turnover and, ideally, are convenient to
Can you see the space from a distance? Can you see into its interior from
Is there a good connection between the space and the adjacent buildings, or
is it surrounded by blank walls? Do occupants of adjacent buildings use the
Can people easily walk to the place? For example, do they have to dart
between moving cars to get there?
Do sidewalks lead to and from the adjacent areas?
Does the space function for people with special needs?
Are there roads and paths through the space and do they take people where
they actually want to go?
Can people use a variety of transportation options -- bus train, car,
bicycle, etc. -- to reach the place?
Are transit stops conveniently located next to destinations such as
libraries, post offices, park entrances, etc.?
Whether a space is comfortable and presents itself well - has a good image -
is key to its success. Comfort includes perceptions about safety,
cleanliness, and the availability of places to sit -- the importance
of giving people a choice of where to sit is generally underestimated. Women in
particular are good judges of comfort and image and tend to be more
discriminating about the public spaces they use.
Questions to consider regarding Comfort & Image:
Does the place make a good first impression?
Are there as many women as men?
Are there enough places to sit? Are seats conveniently located? Do people
have a choice of places to sit, either in the sun or shade?
Are spaces clean and free of litter? Who is responsible for maintenance?
What do they do? When?
Does the area feel safe? Is there a security presence? If so, what do these
people do? When are they on duty?
Are people taking pictures? Are there many photo opportunities available?
Do vehicles dominate the space, or prevent pedestrians from easily getting
to the space?
Uses & Activities
Activities are the basic building blocks of a place. Having something to do
gives people a reason to come -- and return. When there is nothing to do, a
space will generally be empty.
Principles to keep in mind in evaluating the uses and activities of a
The more activities going on, and that people have an opportunity to
participate in, the better.
There should be a good balance between men and women (women are more
particular about the spaces that they use).
People of different ages should use the space (retired people and people
with young children can use a space during the day when others are working).
The space should be used throughout the day.
A space that is used by both singles and people in groups is better than one
that is used just by single people -- it means that there are places for people
to sit with friends, there is more socializing, and it is more fun.
The ultimate success of a space is determined by how well it is managed.
Questions to consider about Uses & Activities:
Are people using the space or is it empty?
Is it used by people of different ages?
Are people in groups or alone?
How many different types of activities are occurring -- people walking,
eating, playing baseball, chess, relaxing, reading?
Which parts of the space are used and which are not?
Are there choices of things to do?
Is there a management presence, can you identify that anyone is in charge of
This is a difficult quality for a place to achieve, but once attained it
becomes an unmistakable feature. When people see friends, meet and greet their
neighbors, and feel comfortable interacting with strangers, they tend to feel a
stronger sense of place or attachment to their community - and to the place that
fosters these types of social activities.
Questions to consider about Sociability:
Is this a place where you would choose to meet your friends? Are others
meeting friends here or running into them?
Are people in groups? Are they talking with one another?
Do people seem to know each other by face or by name?
Do people bring their friends and relatives to see the place or do they
point to one of its features with pride?
Are people smiling? Do people make eye contact with each other?
Do people use the place regularly and by choice?
Is there a mix of ages and ethnic groups that generally reflects the
community at large?
Do people tend to pick up litter when they see it?
(The information here comes from What Makes a Successful Place? at
PPS's website. If you'd like to read more, go here:
Clinton Square and, to a lesser extent, Hanover Square have
excellent visibility from a distance – particularly from the west and east
but also from north and south. Walking to the squares from various places
downtown usually isn't a problem, although city traffic has to be negotiated
when the city has not temporarily closed streets
on the perimeter. Parking downtown for events in Clinton square can be a problem.
Because the square is mostly open, walking through it isn't difficult except
when it is full of people. Mass transit to the square is only as good as that
for the city in general – barely adequate.
The lack of connection with adjoining buildings is Clinton
problem. A glance at the
1912 Clinton Square panorama shows that virtually all of
the buildings on the square once faced into the square offering multiple connections and
services. Many of those buildings have been lost and those erected since have
been oriented away from the noise
and traffic that had characterized Erie Boulevard –
the main thoroughfare through town.
This effect is particularly
evident with the Syracuse
Newspapers building which now occupies the entire north side of the square,
yet offers not a single door facing into the square.
The Clinton Exchange
building was saved from destruction and converted to offices after it sat vacant for
several years. Today it serves as the corporate headquarters of the
Pyramid Corporation. But in its previous lives this building served much more public functions as the
Federal Building and then the major downtown post office.
The Jerry Rescue building
that once faced into the square is now gone, leaving only a parking lot with a
windowless brick wall behind it.
Even the little four story building at the
northwest corner of West Genesee and Clinton, the Kearnby Building, has been
However, there still are opportunities to increase connections between the square and the buildings on
The Gridley Building
has a large, vacant space on the first floor.
This is elevated well above ground level and offers a commanding view of both
Clinton Square and the entrance into Hanover square. Several restaurants have
come and gone in the lower level of the Gridley Building.
Although it isn't
Atrium, on the south side of the square may offer the best potential for establishing connections
into the square. Its internal space could be readily reconfigured to this purpose and
traffic between the Atrium and the square is restricted and infrequent.
Here's a more ambitious idea: the
Jerry Rescue building could be recreated on
its original site at the southwest corner of the square, with the majority of the new building devoted to an
abolition and underground railroad museum.
In Hanover Square, many more of the original buildings have
survived and there is excellent potential for connections between these
buildings and the square -- but only
potential. New apartments have been developed in several buildings on
both the north and south sides of the square and these filled up almost as
quickly as they were completed. Having these "eyes on the street" will
greatly further the development of the area.
Photo courtesy of Syracuse Blueprint
Ice skating returned to Clinton Square in 2001, an activity
that hadn't been witnessed there since the 1920's. The number of ice skaters visiting the square
has exceeded expectations -- but this won't be enough, even in winter.
The activity most needed on the square now is dining. In winter, many who would never think of
skating would find it pleasant to watch the skaters from the comfort of an
indoor window. And skaters need a place to escape into from the
cold. In the summer, some will prefer a view into the square from
air-conditioned comfort; others will prefer to dine in the square itself.
Gridley and Arcade Buildings appear to be the best candidates in Clinton
Square for indoor dining; outdoor dining may only be possible from the Arcade
The center of Hanover Square needs to be redesigned, perhaps returning it to something more like its
state in the 1920's; the current fountain and related structures are more of
an impediment to activities in the Square than an enhancement. The square
would be better off without the access lane through its heart, and its
perpetual line of parked cars. This should be space for pedestrians.
Like Armory Square, the most
immediate danger for Hanover Square is that taverns will come to dominate, frightening away other types of shops and
other types of visitors -- remember what PPS had to say about spaces that
attract only singles. The square's nickname of 100 years
ago could return: "Hangover Square."
The new Clinton square
is hosting special events
nearly every week now. Between events the square sits empty. Clinton square needs
services and attractions that can draw visitors every day. The two squares will have
succeeded when Syracuse residents of all ages believe they can drop into the area,
day or night, and always find something to eat and something to do.
Some thoughts on public space design from William H. Whyte:
"My foundation-supported group, the Street Life Project, was set up to learn
how city spaces are used. One of the first findings was that the 'overcrowded
city' is a myth. Most of the spaces observed were not overused: They were
underused. Conversely, the spaces that people most enjoyed and found most
restful were the most intensely used. The street is a surprisingly sociable
place, and high density is a condition of its vitality. A successful street has
a critical mass of activity and of people. Pedestrian malls that have failed
have done so in part because they diffused people and activities over too
expansive a space.
"Successful spaces are not cut off from the street; they are not elevated
high above it, nor are they sunk down beneath it. Sunken plazas are usually
"The elements of a good city space, then, are basics, and it is interesting
to note how many of them are natural -- people to watch, sun to bask in, trees to
sit under, water to splash in and listen to. Nowhere does nature seem so
important to people as in the city, and enjoyment of the city outdoors is
"Small, winding streets are a treasure. Among other things, they slow down
cars enough to let pedestrians bully them to a dead stop. The grid system has
advantages, too. In most cases, the blocks are small enough to establish a
repetitive pattern of cross streets that interrupts what might otherwise be
single projects of immense size. It is significant that the most successful
large complex in the U.S. did not eliminate streets but actually added some.
This, of course, is Rockefeller Center.
"...The city is losing the function for which it is no longer
suited -- manufacturing -- but reaffirming its great and most basic function as a
place for people to come together. This is the street: busy, noisy, crowded,
tacky, but full of life and vitality. And full of continuity -- the sense of where
we are and where we've come from. There's our future."
William H. Whyte, in "The Humble Street." Historic
Preservation. January, 1980. pp. 34-41.