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Making Cities and Spaces Work for People

Placemaking expert Matthew Lister explains the need for public spaces that invite public life

Video: Build Support for Change: Places for People

"Public life is the shared experience of our cities and neighborhoods created by people when they live their lives outside of their homes, workplaces and cars," says Matthew Lister, a partner at the urban design and planning firm Gehl. "It is the everyday life that unfolds in streets, plazas, parks, and spaces between buildings. Vibrant public life promotes civic agency, supports health and sustainability, builds social capital, and connects people to their local communities."

People-first, "human-focused" planning "flips the design equation on its head," Lister explained to attendees of the AARP Livable Communites Placemaking Workshop on November 12, 2019. That means thinking about the activities and interactions a space should allow and encourage. It means, he added, knowing "how people actually behave and not how we think they behave." Planning and designing the buildings for a space needs to come after all of that happens.

Lister's presentation illustrates how, he says, "we might better engage and design with citizens, to create public spaces with, shaped by and built for people."


Matthew Lister is a partner and managing director of Gehl. A creative placemaker, real estate strategist and designer, he focuses on the intersection of real estate strategy and the design and activation of great public spaces. Often working at multiple scales with both private and public clients, Lister works to develop aspirational yet economically sustainable and implementable solutions. He also brings expertise in collaborative engagement with diverse communities in the urban change and development process.

Website: Twitter: @citiesforpeople

Create Places That Pop!

Page published November 2019


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