Non-urban planners: what do you consider "open space" to be?

In the community where I work, in an area is known for its very engaged, vocal, and environmentally conscious population, there’s some opposition to our draft comprehensive plan, due to it not sufficiently protecting “open space”. However, those opposed to the plan, and many others in the community, use the term “open space” to mean “any parcel of land that is not developed.” In the eyes of many, a large vacant lot is as much “open space” as a park or a protected wetland.

I’m curious to know what comes to mind when any of the Teeming Millions thinks of the term “open space.” Personal opinions are what matters; my office is full of books with definitions and cites.

I work in a County GIS department and work closely with planning. I think one requirement would be that it is public land. So for myself, a private lot would not qualify.

I can’t figure out if you’re asking the Dope in general or if you want people with planning experience. I don’t have planning experience. I’d agree that any undeveloped land as well as any land in use for agriculture feels like “open space” to me. Anything my eye can glide past until I see the tree line in the distance.

For me it’s either ‘green space’ ie parkland or undeveloped countryside, or developed public leisure space, like a town square or open air sports facilities.

I’d say it is an undeveloped land or park that is open to the public without an exorbitant fee (a few dollars at the most per use.) Just empty lots don’t count, unless there is a tradition of public access to the property like in some areas of the European countryside. If a city boasted tons of open space, I’d feel a bit disappointed if it was mostly empty, fenced-in lots.

Open space includes:
Public lands
Lands held in trust by charities (nature conservancy, etc)
Private lands which are incapable of being developed or divided.

Private land capable of being developed is not “open space” with the meaning of some kind of development plan. Eventually it will be another shitty sub division or strip mall.

This. There’s “open space”, which is space everyone can use (like a town square) and there is “green space” which is land that is supposed help the environment that the government might have to restrict access to, like a park or wetland. A vacant lot would count IMO, if the lot was intended to remain that way in a natural state and the state took steps to keep it that way.

In my area, a local private golf course has managed to get some of its land declared as a protected green space or some such, which allows them tax breaks. I don’t think that is “open space” since it is only open to a few. It is somewhat undeveloped green land that will provide an enviornmental benefit to all, in a sense, but it’s not open and it’s not protected by anyone other than the golf course owners.

As someone with pretty deep roots in urban planning, I’ll refrain from offering an answer to the original query—though it would be very similar to Hello Again’s.

But it does concern me that “open space” has come to be such an undefined but nonetheless unquestionable Good Thing. If citizens don’t know what the point of the space is—active recreation, wilderness respite, wildlife habitat, view protection—then they’re just being lazy NIMBYs, restricting property rights of others for reasons they can’t even articulate clearly. Most communities in the US need less “open space” and more quality urbanism.

We had some pretty heated meetings in my neighborhood about a development plan in DC, I know that an empty lot might not meet the official definition of open space, but if you live in an area and enjoy an empty lot to walk your dog, read the paper or whatever, it sure feels like a park. To me open space is parkland, patches of grass, or (this being DC), a statue of an obscure dead person with some benches.

To me, “outside of town”, but for some reason that’s a concept which gets translated straight into Spanish. Apparently my brain sees no difference between “open spaces” and “wide open spaces” and sticks them outside of towns; parks and paseos* get their own names. Given the OP’s context, I’d double-take the concept to include parks and paseos.

  • This would be areas set up to be comfortable to walk along, such as a boardwalk on the coast, a boulevard with wide sidewalks, or a park along the shores of a river.

To the OP, open space has to be designated. It’s either public land or private land not salable or leasable with inevitable build-up.

No need to go into public land. For private developments, it’s all areas within the mother lot that are not for sale/lease and not slated for build-up (like a church or a clubhouse, etc.) Unfortunately, the open space will include your private roads. Now, qualify your open space further to designate your “green strips.” These will include grass strips included in the road right-of-way, and other common areas where vegetation is allowed to grow.

To me, urban open space is synonymous with urban green space i.e intentionally open-air environments for public use (free or for a reasonable fee), ranging from parks and green belts to wild spaces like woods and even seaside dunes. I would not consider a vacant lot to be open space - it’s obviously not intended to be a long-term situation. Road traffic islands may be landscaped, but they’re not intended for public access really. Nor would I consider a piazza or paved square to be such - they’re part of the hardscape. But village greens and those New England green town squares with the bandstand are open space.

Inexperienced band intended to limit urban sprawl. (5,4)

I think of open space as outdoor areas that are open to the public for use. What that use is could be varied - mostly it would involve outdoor space where people were free to walk, sit or play. It could be an area designated for some active pursuits (incorporating a bike path, encouraging buskers, etc), or it could also be somewhat more restricted (no skateboarding, no radios, etc).

There are probably some specific open spaces that are very restricted in use – say a walking path along a river bank where you are not allowed to leave the path because the river bank is a protected area for frogs or whatever, but in that instance I could see an argument that the “use” is “watching frogs in a protected and natural environment.” Anyway, that type would probably be extremely unique to an area that had a specialized need.

I don’t necessarily think of them as “green” (or at least natural spaces, in case of sand dunes and the like), although that’s part of it. Pedestrian walkways or courtyards that provide places for people to gather, stroll, and enjoy being out of doors could count. In my head, I tend to think that there is a little more latitude with green spaces, in that they could be very designed and manicured (like an urban park) or left almost entirely natural. With the outdoor public courtyards, I feel they need to be designed for the purpose of public use - you can’t just point to a random paved space in front of a building and say it’s an open space.

Oh, an example of a good urban open space that is not natural at ALL is New York City’s High Line. It incorporates some green elements - in intentionally planted areas, but really, it’s a railway trestle. It’s essence is industrial.

Sometimes I come across spaces that are hinted at as being “open” that strike me as big cheats – such as a small space that is surrounded by towering buildings,* or a privately owned area that is designated as open to the public but always seems to be closed for private events.

  • but I have also seen these designed well, in cases where the ONLY choice is an open space between preexisting buildings.

Hmm difficult question as my instinct is to look up the proper definition. When I read it just now my first thought was large spaces between buildings so that plenty of sunlight comes through, as opposed to those enclosed, built-up areas of high rise where it seems perpetually dark.

That’s what I thought of because that’s what I’d like to conserve in planning. It seems to me that green areas are usually thought out and protected/encouraged/planned for. But sometimes you get too many buildings squished together and it feels enclosed/opposite-of-open-space.