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What makes a place great? Urban planners explain with 13 examples across the U.S.

The Great Places in America program selected 13 streets, neighborhoods, and urban spaces for the honor

A park with benched seating on a manmade shore. There are silver slides in the background.
The Gathering Place, a $465 million new park in Tulsa, Oklahoma, opened in September 2018.
Shane Bevel/Shane Bevel Photography

What makes a neighborhood, street, and public space truly great? Is it just location and landscaping? Or perhaps less definable characteristics like ambiance and flow? Every year, the American Planning Association (APA) helps us to better understand what makes an outstanding spot with its Great Places in America program, which recognizes towns that have created spaces that exemplify healthy revitalization, support cultural identity, and foster community.

This year, a committee of planners chose 13 urban places—four neighborhoods, six public spaces, and three streets—as examples of the “gold standard” in urban planning. These include the gallery-filled Short North Arts District in Columbus, Ohio; the riverfront park, A Gathering Place, in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the vibrant food and entertainment scene on Governor’s Island in New York City; and the redeveloped strip of the Water Street District in Henderson, Nevada. Find out more about all the 2019 designees here.

Metal arches frame a road lined with shops and restaurants.
The Short North Arts District located just north of downtown Columbus, Ohio.
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What do all of these places have in common? On the surface, not much. But each was created to address a need in its community, be it a place for families to have a picnic or a revitalization of a formerly distressed downtown. By choosing these projects, the APA hopes to better define—and encourage—cities to develop cultural magnets, whatever form they might take.

An aerial view of an island with lots of trees and lawns. A cluster of tall buildings rise on land across the river.
An aerial view of Governor’s Island, with the Downtown Manhattan skyline in the background.
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Have a place in a city that you love? You can nominate it for the People’s Choice by offering suggestions to the APA’s social media using #APAgreatplaces. The organization will select five finalists that will be voted on throughout October.