The Twelve Quality Criteria is a tool for researching how public spaces are experienced by their users. More specifically, it’s used to evaluate whether different features of a public space are protective, comfortable, and enjoyable for people spending time there.
The thinking behind these three categories is as follows: 1) without basic protection from cars, noise, rain, and wind, people will generally avoid spending time in a space; 2) without elements that make walking, using a wheelchair, standing, sitting, seeing, and conversing comfortable, a place won’t invite people to stay; 3) great public spaces tend to offer positive aesthetic and sensory experiences, take advantage of local climate, and provide human-scale elements so visitors don’t feel lost in their surroundings.
We recommend using the worksheet to conduct initial research of a place, prioritize investment there, and engage community members. For example, if you are working with residents to redesign a neighborhood park, take them on a walking tour with the Twelve Quality Criteria. Ask them which sections of the park work best, and where improvements would be appreciated. You can also get creative: in Wyandotte County, Kansas, Dotte Agency drew on the Twelve Quality Criteria to create an interactive magnetic board, where park visitors could identify on a printed map what changes they wanted to see and where. The most valuable part of the process turned out to be the dialogue between designers and park users.
To use the tool, go to a public space and observe what’s there. Next, assign a positive, neutral, or negative value to each criteria under Protection, Comfort, and Enjoyment (more detailed directions are available on the worksheet itself). The results are always subjective, since they are based on the perceptions of surveyors in a particular public space. Therefore, the evaluation data is not meant to be compared quantitatively to surveys done in other places.
Our public life tools are free for all to download, use, and remix to meet your project’s needs. If you use this tool, we would love to hear from you!