Unique Public Spaces That Prove Urban Design Can Change Everything
Research, time, and money are only some of the resources necessary for urban planning. It takes a lot of effort to keep a city running smoothly – but that doesn’t mean public spaces have to be forgotten by city planners. As you’re about to see, urban spaces don’t have to be boring in order to be efficient.
“A street in my town became a giant water slide this morning.”
One sunny morning, Bristol residents woke up to find a huge water slide covering one of their main streets. This 295ft slide was artist Luke Jerram’s way of reminding people of the good old days when kids used to play outside on the streets. Judging by how many people turned up to the event, we would say the giant water slide won’t be forgotten any time soon.
“There are trampolines built into the street in downtown Copenhagen.”
How awesome is this idea?! We just love to imagine someone coming up with the idea of installing trampolines on the sidewalk and presenting it to the municipality. Looking at this picture is making us wish we could just drop everything and fly to Denmark immediately.
“The walkways at Ohio State University were based on the most commonly used paths by its students.”
As we all know, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Ohio State University could have tried to come up with some kind of uselessly intricate pattern for a fancy pathway on their campus, but decided to do the smart thing instead. They just took advantage of the paths students had been walking for years to create an official walkway.
“This kinetic sidewalk generates electricity when you walk on it.”
Researchers are constantly looking for ways to create new energy sources. This kinetic sidewalk is an interesting way of generating off-grid energy which also encourages people to walk around and exercise. The energy produced by kinetic sidewalks like this can be used to power nearby lampposts or even USB charging ports.
“Saw this public punching bag the other day.”
Even if you are a relaxed person, some days can leave you desperate for a punching bag. Maybe it’s a stressful work day or some bad news, but there are definitely some moments when a punching bag would come in handy – and whoever decided to put up this public punching bag probably knows that.
“This crosswalk with a higher button for people on horses.”
Have you ever had to push the button to cross the street while riding your horse? Well, us neither. But we get it. It must be really hard to reach it when you are that far from the ground. Called pegasus crossings, these crosswalk buttons exist in the US and in the UK.
“China’s Olympic Aquatics Center was turned into an indoor water park.”
As we all know, many Olympic stadiums end up abandoned after the event. It’s so nice to know that this wasn’t the case for the Beijing National Aquatics Centre. Originally built to host competitions during the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, it was renovated in 2010 to create a public water park.
“This alleyway is so narrow it has a traffic light.”
This is such a cool idea. Instead of letting people bump into each other while trying to walk through this narrow alleyway, someone came up with a brilliant solution. By pressing a button, you can request to change the traffic light to green and make sure no one else will be in your way – and you won’t be in anyone’s way either!
“A phone holder for selfies in a town I visited.”
One of the hardest things about traveling alone is not having someone to take your picture in front of tourist attractions and pretty landscapes. At Tamariu beach, in Spain, tourists can simply place their phones on the selfie shelf and set up a timer in order to take great pictures without having to ask anyone for help.
“My local grocery store has an air-conditioned house outside for your dog to stay while you shop.”
If you have a dog, you have probably been in a situation when you were out and remembered you needed something from the store but couldn’t bring your best friend inside with you. Your options are going back home to drop off the dog, leaving it in the car, or trying its leash onto a bike rail outside the store. Clearly, these little air-conditioned houses are the most comfortable option.
“These swings at my local park let you swing with your baby.”
We absolutely love this idea. Taking your kids to the park always leaves you feeling nostalgic for your childhood and hoping you could play on the swings like you used to do. With this design, you can swing back and forth instead of just standing there while pushing and pulling your baby on the swings.
“Miniature traffic playground in Copenhagen where kids learn to bike in traffic.”
Riding a bike can be pretty hard if there are lots of cars around. To make sure kids know how to ride their bikes in traffic, the city of Copenhagen built a public playground with kid-sized traffic lights, road signs and gas stations so they can first practice in a safe environment.
“This Phone box was repurposed as a public defibrillator.”
To this day, the UK is known for its red telephone boxes. Although they were actually useful until a few years ago, nowadays most people won’t leave their house without their cellphone. But instead of getting rid of these cute red kiosks, many cities have chosen to repurpose them into tiny public libraries, art galleries, and even public defibrillators.
“This bike path has a tilted trashcan so cyclists can easily toss their trash.”
What a great way to prevent people from littering. In Denmark, many streets have angled trashcans so that cyclists can throw away their trash without having to stop – making their lives a lot easier and hopefully encouraging them to hold onto their trash until they find a bin to toss it in.
“A public meetup spot monitored via video surveillance.”
If you sell or buy things online pretty often, you might have used these public meetup spots before. It turns out many police stations have their own meetup areas equipped with video cameras. This is a great way to ensure safety during in-person transactions with strangers.
“The city I live in has a public workstation for bikes.”
Although most of us have seen at least one public bike pump somewhere, we had definitely never seen a public repair station – especially something as complete as this one. If you were wondering where this person found this awesome workstation, they saw it in Tigard, Oregon.
“This bridge is actually three bridges woven into one.”
Aptly named Lucky Knot Bridge, this steel pedestrian crossing spans the Dragon King Harbor River in Changsha, China. Unlike most bridges, which have a solely utilitarian purpose, this is also a masterpiece. It is 600 feet long and is basically three separate bridges tangled up into one.
“A bike stand built into a park bench.”
This is such a creative and practical idea. Not only does the bike stand take up no extra space at all, but it also looks very cool. Besides, bike owners might feel safer parking their bicycles right next to them on the bench instead of at a bike rack far away, where they can’t keep an eye on them.
“This squared pizza trashcan next to a regular bin.”
Who says trashcans have to be boring? This neighborhood in Lindau, Germany, must eat so much pizza that they had to come up with a solution to make sure all those boxes are being recycled. Besides, these boxes are too big for most regular trashcans, so this pizza box holder ensures their regular bins won’t fill up too fast.
“To save the local bee population, this city installed green roofs on their bus stops.”
Most cities only change their bus stops when they are in such a terrible state they need to be replaced. The Dutch city of Utrecht, however, decided to change theirs to combat the decline in the local bee population. These green hubs also store water and keep the temperature lower.
“The new bollards around my local school look like pencils.”
How cool are these bollards?! It’s so heartwarming to know that people have gone out of their way to make sure these kids can have the best experience when going to school. We would have loved it if our school also had pencil-shaped bollards even if they didn’t look this cool…
“The Kansas City Public Library.”
If you had never seen a library and were told to design one according to its definition, you would probably come up with something like this. Whoever came up with this concept made it very easy for anyone to spot the public library even if they had never been to Kansas City before.
“Public hammocks in Copenhagen.”
Back in 2013, these awesome hammocks were placed in two locations in Copenhagen for residents and tourists to relax while running errands and walking around. Named Off-Ground, this art installation was created by Amsterdam-based designers Jair Straschnow and Gitte Nygaard.
“Green train in Lower Silesia, Poland.”
Who said tran rides have to be boring? This awesome green train in Poland shows us that even the most mundane activities can be quite fun if we just use our creativity. We would love to see similar initiatives in other parts of the world! In fact, we would pay more to ride a green train if we could choose this over a regular train.
“Book benches in Burgas, Bulgaria.”
These book-shaped benches made our bookworm hearts skip a beat. We have seen many cool things in our lifetime, but this might be one of the most original urban design concepts we have ever seen. Not only is the idea super creative, but the execution is absolutely perfect!
“My local library loans out cake pans.”
Most people go to the library when they want to read a book. Whoever frequents this library, though, also stops by when they want to bake a cake. This is a pretty great idea, in our opinion, since most people don’t bake cakes often and don’t need to have to their own cake pans at home.
“My kid’s new school has a twirly slide to get downstairs!”
This might be the coolest thing we have ever seen. When we were in school, we had to walk everywhere. Going upstairs involved actual stairs. Going downstairs also required stairs. We can only imagine how fun it must be for these kids to slide down to the cafeteria every day instead of using the stairs.
“Today in Milan, I saw the longest foosball table ever.”
This looks so incredibly fun. Instead of having to take turns while playing foosball with your twenty closest friends, now you can all play together. We can only imagine how hard it must be to actually manage to score a goal in a long foosball table like this – but we would love to try!
“Saw a special swing for wheelchair-bound children.”
Whenever we see something as inclusive as this amazing swing for wheelchair-bound kids, we can’t help but wonder why these aren’t everywhere. It’s so great that someone took the time to come up with this design to make sure all kids can have fun at the playground.
“This mall has a river in the middle of it and the ceiling is painted like the sky.”
Whoever painted this ceiling did an amazing job. The more we look at this picture, the harder it is for us to believe that this isn’t just an open-air shopping mall built around a real river. We have a feeling this would be a great place to spend the day when it’s cold and rainy outside and all you want to do is pretend the weather is nicer than it is.
“This one-space parking lot in Tokyo has all the equipment as though there were 100 spots.”
This is such an interesting concept. Although there’s only enough room for a single car to park in this parking lot, the area has every single piece of equipment a regular parking lot would need. Our favorite part about all of this is that the single spot is marked “1” so drivers don’t park on the wrong spot.
“My school’s library has noise-level guides that change color when it gets too loud.”
Sometimes, we don’t realize we are being too loud. It’s easy to forget we are sitting in a library when our study buddies are making funny comments or reminding us about something hilarious that happened earlier in class. This noise-level guide lets people know when they are being too loud so they can make an effort to be quiet and respectful.
“My local shopping mall has the world’s tallest tube aquarium.”
Located in Moscow’s Aviapark shopping center, this is the tallest cylindrical aquarium in the whole world. The 75 ft tall aquarium holds 98,000 gallons of salt water and is home to 2,500 species of fish and Red Sea reef. To contain the water pressure, the aquarium walls are eight-inches thick.
“This restaurant has designated stroller parking places.”
This is what we call a family-friendly environment. While some restaurants might have some space by the door where parents can leave their strollers, we had never seen one that had literal parking spots for families to park them. This makes the whole dining experience so much easier and we are sure every family that eats there appreciates the idea.
Traffic lights installed on the ground to prevent texters from walking into traffic.
The Danish city of Bodegraven came up with a great way to make sure distracted texters won’t just walk into traffic without looking up and checking the traffic lights. Installing pedestrian traffic lights on the ground ensures anyone looking down at their phone will know if they can cross the street or not.
This cafe made Social distancing a little more bearable.
This awesome cafe in Paris had a great idea to ensure social distancing didn’t make customers feel too lonely. Instead of just having empty tables next to the ones where customers could sit, they decided to get giant teddy bears and place them on the unused tables to make people feel a little less awkward while social distancing.
“This gas station I stopped at had a hand washing station.”
It really is all about the small things. While most gas stations don’t offer any kind of hand sanitizer for people to use after they’ve filled up their tanks, this one offers a full-blown handwashing station. If this was anywhere near our house, we would make sure to only get gas at this place.
“This machine in a French train station prints out short stories.”
Waiting for the train can be quite tedious. Some people like to use that time to call their family, while others like to grab a bite to eat. For those that prefer to spend that time reading, this short-story printer was installed in this train station so they can distract themselves until their train arrives.
“My local bus has USB chargers in every seat.”
If you are one of those people who enjoy watching videos on your phone during long bus rides, you know how quickly your phone battery runs out. To make sure passengers are comfortable not only during their journeys, but also once they reach their destination, this bus company decided to install USB chargers on every seat.
“The local opera house’s car barrier is a conductor’s hand and baton.”
How amazing is this?! This opera house could have easily just bought a regular parking gate with boring reflective tape for their parking lot and called it a day. Instead, they went out of their way to get a customized parking gate shaped like a hand and a baton – and we love it so much.
“This post office has a helpful size guide if you want to buy a box.”
Sometimes, the best design idea is the one that’s just plain useful. To make sure people know which box size they need to buy, this post office put up a brilliant size guide that allows customers to place their items and pick the right package for them. Simple but smart.
“Benches in Sweden are very friend and couple friendly.”
This is the perfect bench for friends to enjoy their breakfast pastries and coffee. It allows people to eat comfortably without needing an extra table or having to place their food right next to them. If only more countries would take the time to come up with these creative concepts to make their residents’ lives better.
“This Berlin manhole cover has directions on it.”
Being a tourist can be quite stressful sometimes. If you have never been somewhere before, it might be hard to navigate around the area. This is why it’s so cool that manhole covers in Berlin have directions to touristic attractions! We are sure they have helped thousands of tourists over the years.
The Prado Museum has 3D versions of paintings for blind visitors.
Hoy toca el Prado (Touch the Prado) is a brilliant initiave by Madrid’s Museo del Prado that allows visually-impaired visitors to explore their collection with their hands. This inovative exhibit uses a technique called “Didu” to provide texture and volume to art pieces such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Correggio’s Noli Me Tangere.
The coziest bus stop in the world.
If you take the bus to work every day, you know the struggle of having to stand there while waiting for it in the morning. If you are lucky, your regular bus stop might have an uncomfortable metal bench – but that’s not always the case. Whoever gets to wait for their bus at this bus stop, though, is the real lucky one.
“A single-seat bench.”
Although single-seat benches are basically just chairs, something about the way this one was built makes it impossible for us to not see it as a very narrow park bench. We wonder if people sitting on this bench-chair feel less lonely than they would feel sitting alone on a large bench – or if it’s the other way around.
Pedal-powered charging station in Paris.
How brilliiant is this idea? While waiting for your train at Gare du Nord Station, you can charge your phone and excercise all at the same time. Not only is this a great way to pass the time, it’s also a way to use your downtime productively. By the time you get home, you don’t even have to go to the gym anymore.
“This parking garage painted the utility pipes to match the tree mural behind it.”
While some may say camouflaging these utility pipes only makes it easier for drivers to reserve into them, others will say this muralist did an amazing job at matching the tree mural on the wall. Whether it’s a good or a bad idea, it’s up to the parking garage and its customers to decide – but we think this looks so cool it’s worth the risk of someone hitting the poles!
“The tiny arm rest I had on my flight.”
How interesting is this tiny armrest?! It has the exact same design as the other armrests in that plane, but it’s super short so that it doesn’t interfere with the overwing exit. Although it’s not a full-sized armrest, we guess we can all agree it’s better to have that to rest our elbows than nothing at all…
“I went to a restaurant that was next door to a laundromat. They had a board to show which washer and dryers were finished.”
This is such an interesting concept. Going to the laundromat can feel like such a waste of time: it takes hours, there’s nothing to do there, and there’s no food to keep us distracted. Knowing laundromat customers need somewhere to sit while waiting for their laundry, this restaurant came up with this solution that benefits not only them but also the laundromat and its customers.
“This bike rack at the beach is a fish.”
Whoever came up with this idea deserves a raise. Instead of installing a boring bike rack by the beach, someone realized they could turn it into a work of art. This is one of those things that just make your day a little bit better when you see them and the person who made it knows it.
“Solar-powered park bench with USB charging ports.”
Sometimes, the smallest ideas are the ones we appreciate the most. Even though we take public benches for granted, we’re sure anyone whose phone is about to die will be extremely thankful for a solar-powered park bench in the middle of the day.
“This huge hammock by the lake.”
Located by Paprocany lake in Poland, this cool public hammock is a great place for people to just six and relax. Although the wooden deck looks pretty cool anyway, it’s definitely the sunken netted area that makes us want to travel all the way to Poland.
“There is a vending machine at a Munich train station just for Legos.”
Sometimes, keeping the population happy takes more than just planning traffic lights and making sure potholes are repaired. If you have ever forgotten to buy someone a present and had to end up getting them a random gift at the train station, you know these people in Munich must really appreciate this vending machine.
“The Traveller is a hyper-realistic statue of a tired traveler at the Orlando airport.”
If you thought this was a middle-aged guy tired from traveling, look again. Titled The Traveller, this incredibly realistic bronze sculpture depicting a man sleeping next to his luggage was made by Duane Hanson. The statue has been part of the Orlando International Airport’s collection since 1986 and can be found in the Terminal A concourse between the East and West security checkpoints.
“A French artist known as “the Pavement Surgeon” repairs sidewalks using colorful mosaics.”
Since 2011, an anonymous French artist has been filling potholes around the world using gorgeous mosaics. Known as Ememem, the artist has turned several cracks on sidewalks and facades into beautiful masterpieces. Nicknamed “the pavement surgeon”, the artist created their first mosaic in 2011 in their hometown of Lyon and since then has also transformed sidewalks in countries such as Spain, Australia and El Salvador.
“My school has skateboard parking.”
If you ride your skateboard everywhere, you’re probably wondering where this contraption is located and how you can get one for your university or office. Well, this specific skateboard parking area is located at the University of Central Florida by the student union building.
“This cobblestone QR code in front of the Prague City Hall redirects tourists to the city guide app.”
The city of Prague came up with a brilliant way to ensure tourists could learn more about the Czech capital while still keeping its City Hall looking elegant. Back in 2013, this cool QR code made of black and white cobblestones was installed in front of the City Hall in order to help tourists download a city guide app on their phones. When the original link expired in 2019, however, the code began redirecting people to the music video for Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.
“This pub’s bathroom I visited this weekend was built around the cliff side.”
This is such an interesting concept. Instead of getting rid of the rock invading its bathroom area, this restaurant decided to take advantage of it. Knowing that this is what makes them unique, the business chose to build their bathroom around the cliff. They probably knew it would be a great conversation starter for patrons.
“This gate that allows horses but not vehicles.”
If you are from the UK, you might have seen this. Almost like a reverse cattle grid, this gate allows horses to walk around but prevents cars from driving into the property. This is a great way to bring horses and even bycicles back after rides while keeping intruders away from private roads.