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Community Design - Public Spaces

Public spaces and places are open and accessible to the public. They form the public realm and are an important aspect of community design.1 High quality public spaces serve multiple purposes which include being functional and providing recreation, art and cultural opportunities as well as opportunities for social interaction. Natural and built features are often combined which can help promote healthy lifestyles, safety, mental well-being and a high quality of life. Factors such as accessibility and age-friendly design are important considerations when it comes to the design and planning of public spaces.2 3


High quality public spaces:

  • are inviting and attractive
  • accessible and inclusive
  • offer unique experiences
  • include public art, historical and cultural expressions
  • appeal to a wide variety of people

In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) provides specific requirements for barrier-free and inclusive public spaces through the Design of Public Spaces Standards.4 5

Public spaces can be structured or unstructured and include:

  • parklands and parkettes (small parks)
  • open / green spaces / naturalized areas
  • conservation areas
  • paths and trails
  • recreation facilities and spaces
  • children’s play areas
  • public plazas & squares
  • streets and sidewalks
  • municipal buildings
  • multi-purpose facilities
  • libraries
  • artistic and cultural displays
  • water fronts and beaches
Family walking in park together


Public Spaces


Public Spaces

Green Space, Nature and Health

Natural and green spaces allow people to connect with nature which can have a positive impact on physical, mental, social and spiritual health and well-being. Natural settings are also recognized for their positive role in child development by promoting active lifestyles, improved grades and personal contentment. The availability of green spaces is associated with positive health effects including:

  • increased levels of physical activity
  • lower body mass index (BMI)
  • social connectedness
  • reduced stress levels
  • prevention of mental health issues 6

Check out Ecohealth Ontario to learn how public health, medicine, education, planning and environment professionals are working to improve the urban and rural spaces in which we live.7

Date of creation: November 25, 2016
Last modified on: May 13, 2022


1Ontario Professional Planners Institute. (2016). Healthy Communities and Planning for the Public Realm: A Call to Action. Retrieved from
2Toronto Public Health, City of Toronto Planning, City of Toronto Transportation Services and Gladki Planning Associates. (May 2014). Active City: Designing for Health. Retrieved from
3Eitler, T.W., McMahon, E.T., Thoerig, T.C.. Urban Land Institute. (2013). Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places. Retrieved from
4Government of Ontario. (2005). Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, S.O. 2005, c. 11. Retrieved from
5Parks and Recreation Ontario. (2014). Pathways to Recreation: Learning about Ontario’s Accessibility Standard for the Design of Public Spaces. Retrieved from to Recreation.pdf
6Canadian Institute of Planners. (2014). Healthy Communities Practice Guide. Retrieved from
7Ecohealth Ontario. (2017). Retrieved from