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How To Turn a Place Around - Review

by Andrea Di Giovanni

The book written by PPS (Project for Public Spaces), a non-profit planning and design organization dedicating to preserving and increasing public spaces, originates from twenty-five years ago technical assistance, research, education, planning and design activities.
The experience of this organization is closely connected to the fertile American research tradition opened by William H. Whyte (the mentor of PPS) and by the more critical and less operational Jane Jacobs' work. From that work traditions PPS inherits the richness of multidimensional and well-organized outlook on the public spaces design in which are involved technical, morphological, functional, symbolic and perceptive elements, able to gather and to position in a profitable way the different knowledge. Therefore the strategy of PPS is to built "crowded places" in which there should be the conditions for realising identification and appropriation processes that seem indispensable for the community construction.
The reflection tone and the suggested operational principles bound the sphere of action, including only the management and the urban spaces turning intervention, not even the design of new public spaces. However, it's not very clear how this principles can be transferred from a field to another and what are the attentions we have to pay in this operation. This handbook is for everyone: from the citizen to the public administration, passing through the different level of government and including stakeholders, professionals and students. The language is very clear and friendly, indeed PPS handbook contains a lot of examples, case studies and pictures. Therefore it is consistent with the width and the heterogeneity of the potential users. In the same way the reasoning explains easily intuitive concepts (too often known) using frequently short circuit with the experience and the practice.
The book is composed by three chapters: the first ("Why Places are Important to Cities") presents some of the most important functions of the urban places and some of the most frequent causes of failure. In the end of this chapter we find the proposal of a new approach ("place driven" and "community based") to the project of public space. This one will be developed through 11 points and a large series of examples and case studies in the following chapter ("Principles of Creating Great Places"). The last chapter ("Workbook for Evaluating Public Spaces") studies the evaluation aspects of the public spaces in deep and proposes the analysis of some characteristics of the places that are able to give success and the fundamental aspects of their working, moreover the third chapter contains some indications about people participation and observation techniques. The handbook concludes with an appendix that presents materials and forms to collect behavior data.

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