skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Kaid Benfield’s Blog

People Habitat: great city places

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 7, 2011

, , , , , ,
Share | | |

  Dupont Circle, Washington (by: yawper, creative commons license)

Environmental advocates have long given priority to protecting natural ecosystems and wildlife habitat.  The organization I work for is called the Natural Resources Defense Council for a reason.  (Never mind the lamentable fact that many people think our first name is “National.”)

But I believe that one of the best ways to protect nature is to create and support great “people habitat” in cities and towns.  That's where we want humans to reside and prosper, rather than building more pavement and development across natural landscapes.  This is one of the many reasons that making cities strong and hospitable (as well as greener) is so important to the environment. 

Few aspects of people habitat affect the character, strength and beauty of our neighborhoods and downtowns as much as our public spaces – the streets, parks, plazas, and gathering places that physically knit our communities together.  Dysfunctional public spaces inhibit pride and make a community feel abandoned, unsafe, and unwelcoming.  Great ones can become the heart and soul of a place, attracting residents, businesses, and life to towns and cities. 

The Project for Public Spaces and the planning news aggregator Planetizen just sponsored an online poll to determine America’s favorite public spaces.  (The recently announced top ten winners were somewhat surprising.)  This inspired me to go into my photo library and pull together a slide show that illustrates many of the qualities that can make public spaces great. 

We are excited to be hosting these images as a video, People Habitat, on our new YouTube channel for NRDC Sustainable Communities.  The site will be both a place for original content generated by NRDC's sustainable communities team and an evolving library of our favorite videos from others (including NRDC colleagues) on green neighborhoods, cities, and metro regions. Pay us a visit and, if you like what you see, please consider subscribing or favoriting us.

Unlike those in the PPS-Planetizen poll, many of the scenes in People Habitat are from outside the US, and I make no claim that they are necessarily the “best.”  But, to me, they are inspirational.  I hope they will be to you as well:


Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

Share | | |


Lee EpsteihnNov 7 2011 01:08 PM

"Top-xyz" lists are fun but we all know their weakness: leaving out really cool things or places. I would include intimate Bryant Park in NYC on such a list, but also Rittenhouse Square and the beautiful, sinuous Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Always interesting Union Square, and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, would share billing with Chicago's active, green Lakeshore. Then there are all the less green but actively used and well-programmed urban plazas.... I know, such a list could go on forever. And that's a good thing. Cities contemplating growth or change in form can surely learn from these urban successes, and from other cities' windswept failures.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In