In Paris’ 17th Arrondissement, a neighborhood called Batignolles, there is a small plaza, Place De Levis, that knocked me out.


de levis

It’s in a bourgeois neighborhood that’s well off the tourist path. It’s small; I’m guessing about 200’ by 500’, ringed by a hodgepodge of stores and dotted with street furniture. Nothing fancy at all, really modest.


But I think it’s the perfect small urban open space.

IMG_2374 (1).jpgThe surrounding buildings frame it well, even curving at the corner.


It’s got a fountain, benches, a news kiosk, handsome Parisian street lights, and boxes of trees. There’s a bike rack.

IMG_2411.jpgAn allée of trees frames a zone for dedicated pedestrians. The pavement is a little different there.

IMG_2400.jpgAround the corner is a car-free street of food markets, bakeries, produce, fish, cheese, all the stuff a Parisian needs.

Benches face two directions.IMG_2407.jpgThey can double as play equipment.


IMG_2392.jpgAt one end it’s anchored by a café and a fruit and vegetable stall.

There are fliers.



news stand1.jpg
Plus there’s a newsstand and the poster kiosk, so there are plenty of ways to get the news.

There are a lot of reasons to be there: a pharmacy, a daycare center, a bank with an outside ATM, a driving school, a café, a small storefront for electrolysis (“Body Minute”), a real estate office. I saw two motorcyclists kissing while a few feet away a group of school kids admired a pet rabbit.


There’s a stand where this woman sells hats and socks.

I bought a really nice wool cap for 20 euros (about $24).

IMG_2412.jpgThere’s even a condom vending machine.


Of course there’s street art…


 including the PacMan variety found all over Paris.


On weekends dads bring their kids to practice soccer.


That’s the one thing that’s prohibited:


Nonetheless, see how delighted this man was to recover the ball as he came by:PASSERBY

It’s not just a patch of grass. In fact, there isn’t any grass. There are about four trees in big planter boxes but this place doesn’t aspire to be a park or a plaza or a square.

It’s a place.

There’s a groundbreaking study by William H. Whyte in 1979, funded by the National Geographic Society that resulted in a book and short film , both called the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

His team set up cameras and filmed how real people use plazas and parks in Manhattan. Developers were getting additional height bonuses for providing these “amenities” but many of them were unlovable leftovers where nobody would want to linger. Some of his findings were pretty intuitive – like that people prefer to sit in the sun. But he also found that lovers like to kiss on display and that people like to chat right in the flow of traffic. Everyone who can will move a chair, even a little.

It’s not easy to design a place that works.

Place De Levis does.

I think it works because of the size, the scale of surrounding buildings, the classy fountain, lights and kiosk, the café and groceries, the visibility, and most of all the sheer variety of reasons to be there.
You could just walk through. But you could also pick up your kids at daycare, buy a hat, get cash or condoms from machines, buy apples or toothpaste. You could remove unwanted hair, learn to drive, or drink an espresso.

You’re not supposed to, but you could kick a soccer ball around.

There’s a super-easy test to tell whether a public space works: you like being there.

I think you’d like Place De Levis.