The Value of Small Urban Spaces

Urban spaces as an individual entity are unique across the world. They each form a small piece of a wider, collective urban jigsaw and define the fabric of neighbourhoods and communities who use them. Their value is dictated through design and integration with the surrounding environment and how they are used socially.

An early study of this was carried out by William H Whyte, in ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’, published in 1980. The research focused on New York’s plazas and parks and how the design of such spaces can influence activities which occur in these locations and the social dynamic arising from this.

Certainly, the quality of urban spaces are observed to have an impact upon the value of the urban environment in proximity to these, particularly in respect of retail and commercial land use. This has been noted through a TfL study of London, where an improvement streetscape or public realm ‘had a direct and significant impact on raising rental levels and (in the case of retail) on reducing vacancy’, with occupiers anticipating increased profitability as a result.

Interestingly, this does not translate to residential development, where street improvements contributed only 0.25% to price increases. This reflects a clear variance in mindsets of residential property owners to those in the commercial rental market.

Notwithstanding this, the quality of urban spaces is considered to have a clear impact on the enjoyment of the end user and their propensity to utilise these spaces.