Res Publica or the Public Realm is the heart of our communities and civic presence. It, along with Res Economica, the Private Realm, form the Complete City or Civitas. These two Realms describe the physical built form and fabric or the “Hardware” of a city. One with out the other is not complete and each realm will contribute to the true nature of a community or place.
What makes up the Public Realm? In short, it is composed of the shared things in people’s daily life. These things include Public Monuments, Landmarks and Buildings, Public Squares, Parks and Spaces, Public Streets and Spaces between Buildings and lastly, it includes Open Spaces and Access to Natural Resources.
Monuments, Landmarks and Public Buildings are some of the most iconic elements of a place. These are the items typically on post cards and things that tourists photograph. These items often work at several layers and will provide a Citywide Landmark while also serving to anchor a neighborhood or square. Examples of these include churches (of which Beaufort is so blessed with), higher learning campuses (USCB Downtown buildings), schools (Port Royal Elementary), Libraries (Downtown building), Hospitals, and Government Buildings (New City Hall). Institutions bear the burden to provide these well-executed buildings and spaces as a matter of duty.
Public Squares, Parks and Spaces are the great public spaces in our communities. These spaces are vital at several scales of a community. Communities need spaces on a City or Region level and also down to a Neighborhood level. Indeed, even Blocks should have some type of small Public Realm space when ever possible, even if its just a small bench carved out of a fence. These spaces will have a range of sizes and should accommodate a community’s civic functions as well as serve as primary
Public Streets and Alleys are also a huge part of the Public Realm. They are in fact some of the most used portions of the Res Publica and we need to remember that as we design Streets. Streets are used for transportation of course but they also (or should) serve as meeting places and areas of interaction between the Public and Private Realm. This is a critical area as bad streets or streets with out civic value will limit the type of private investment. Great streets should be one of the highest priorities of Public Investment in order to recoup or encourage great Private Investment.
Open Space and Natural Resources are the last major physical components to the Public Realm. Agricultural space and preserved open space are both great ways to maintain long unspoiled vistas which are very important to the overall nature of Beaufort County, which is rural in nature. Also, promoting connection to the natural environment, via preserved street terminations or public docks or boat landings all help us maintain our collective connection to our marshes and river.
Great Cities, Towns and Places have Great Public Realms. These are the collection of Landmarks and Spaces that lead to all of us remembering that place as special. Beaufort is blessed to have a good Public Realm and making it great should be the collective priority of the Public Government so as to encourage solid private investment. Placemaking starts with Civic Building.