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Elements of a Great Place

  Published: 06 December 2021
  Theme: Placemaking
  Written by URA

Places are a part of our everyday lives and shape our experiences and memories. So how can we work towards shaping better places for ourselves? Here are some insights on the key elements of a great place.

This article is adapted from URA’s placemaking book, How to Make a Great Place (PDF, 12.9MB).


Have you wondered what is a place, and what makes a great place?

A physical space may be defined by the walls and boundaries around it but may or may not be inhabited by people.

A place, on the other hand, is a vessel for collective memories and experiences. People’s attachment to places are shaped by their memory of the physical space, what they did there and who they spent their time with.

Places also mean and offer different things for different people. For some, it may be a place to do business. For others, it might be a place to express their creativity, culture, and heritage. It might also be a place for relaxation and recreation, or a place for gathering and social activity.

Familiar and everyday places around our neighbourhoods such as wet markets, hawker centres, parks and others provide opportunities for chance encounters. These are also places for people to gather and experience their surroundings and moments with each other.

Other examples of public spaces that also shape our experiences are public libraries, museums, cultural and heritage sites, streets and natural open spaces such as beaches and green spaces.

The best places are those that possess many different qualities and offer varied experiences. It is the unique blend of the social, cultural, and economic elements that makes a place memorable.

So, what are some key elements of a great place?

1. It feels welcoming

A great place is open and inviting. It draws people in with attractive design and landscaping and provides comfortable spaces with ample shade and seating that encourages people to linger.

Marina Bay breeze shelters
Lofty, airy and well-lit spaces are more welcoming and inviting

2. It is easily accessible

A great place is well-connected to key pedestrian routes and transport nodes and relates well to its surroundings and neighbourhood. It is easy to reach and accessible by people with different mobility needs, allowing different users to experience and enjoy the place.

Paya Lebar Quarter
Different colours and tactile features that celarly show level differences on staircases and ramps ensure greater visibility for users
Kampong Glam
Clear lines of sight and wide pathways make places more accessible and welcoming

3. It feels safe and secure

A great place feels safe and secure to walk through and experience with good lighting day and night, and good visibility for public surveillance.

Singapore River
Good lighting enables people to safely experience different aspects of the streetscape during both day and night.

4. It is delightful and engaging

A great place offers a range of interesting and delightful elements that may surprise and excite people, or allow people to quietly contemplate and relax.

Marina Bay waterfront promenade
Ample and interesting furniture can draw people closer to places and to each other

5. It reflects the local identity

A great place reflects and embraces its heritage, culture and identity that developed over time. It feels authentic and relates well to its context in terms of its distinctive natural and urban qualities. It draws from its past and present to bring out the values and essence of the place and people feel connected to it.

Yip Yew Chong mural
Murals add visual interest and tell the story of the place

6. It offers varied memorable experiences

A great place can be programmed to host different activities and offers a multitude of experiences to attract and engage people in the public space.

i Light Singapore
Flexible open spaces with movable elements allow for changing activities

7. It is for everyone

A great place should feel inclusive and welcoming for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. It should be a place where we can be ourselves and has something for everyone.

HDB playground
Play spaces created with the community encourages greater use by the community and sense of ownership of the place. Image credit: HDB
Inclusive playground
Amenities at public play spaces that are inclusive and welcoming for all. Image credit: National Council of Social Services

8. It feels like our own

A great place should feel like our home. We feel rooted and strongly connected to it and want to take good care of it. It allows for flexible use of space, and inspires spontaneity and creativity, for people to make the place feel like their own.

Discover Tanjong Pagar Community Green
Spaces need not be carefully curated – those that encourage spontaneous uses offer a sense of freedom, and foster a greater sense of belonging

Enhancing the value of places through placemaking

Bringing the elements of great places together, placemaking is a way of thinking and a process where communities and stakeholders come together to proactively create, shape and sustain great public places around us, whether it is a park, a street, a small corner, a void deck, an entire neighbourhood or precinct, to benefit the area and communities.

Placemaking ideas can range from physically improving the area with more benches, shade or wider walkways to adding visual delight such as artwork or water features to public spaces, to activating spaces with events and programmes that benefit the community.

Increasingly, placemaking is recognised as an important way to create liveable and loveable places, and a key ingredient to build a more vibrant and endearing city.