Contact Us
Sponsored Content

Designing With People In Mind: An Approach To Creating Contemporary Communities That Put People First

A rendering of Springfield’s Chestnut Street corridor redesigned by Form + Place.

The way people interact with their communities is changing. Habits are evolving, with more people working from home or looking for office space they can easily access through public transit, micro-transit or a shorter commute. 

But beyond that, people want more input into how their cities are designed. Walkable streets, with more space for events and outdoor socializing and less space for cars, are in high demand and people are looking for fast, easy ways to access nearby areas without having to own a car. 

To accommodate these changing needs, municipalities need to work with urban planning firms that understand these trends and have the know-how to bring them to life in ways that benefit people and businesses alike. 

“People are demanding that the focus of cities should be on people, who are the building block of every community,” said John Rufo, principal at Form + Place, a Newton, Massachusetts-based architecture, planning and urban design firm.

Form + Place has been working to help communities design the people-driven spaces that residents are now demanding. Michael Wang, principal at Form + Place, said that the firm mediates between cities and developers, understanding the needs of each, while helping them to establish partnerships that ultimately allow both to realize their goals. When it comes to approving complex projects, developers need a degree of flexibility, he said, while cities are looking for certainty. 

“Each city or town is unique, and some communities are more accepting of change than others,” Wang said. “It’s important to have a deep understanding of what is happening in a community before promoting specific redevelopment strategies.” 

Wang and Rufo walked Bisnow through some of the firm’s recent projects and explained how they are working to keep communities involved and create more engaging environments. 

An aerial rendering of a revitalized Apremont Triangle in Springfield designed by Form + Place.


Springfield, located in Western Massachusetts, is the fourth-most-populous city in New England. The Northeast Downtown District of Springfield, while close to a newly renovated transit hub, is in desperate need of a vision, Wang said. Form + Place has been working with the city to put together a master plan for the area to help identify how best to stimulate private investment through public infrastructure improvements. The focus on revitalizing public open spaces and streetscapes, he said, is intended to entice developers to invest in rebuilding a mixed-use neighborhood where greater residential density supports a 24/7 downtown vibe.

Some highlights of what the Form + Place team planned with the people of Springfield include developing a mixed-use commercial spine that stimulates growth in the surrounding neighborhood and implementing “complete streets”: streets with dedicated bike lanes, pedestrian environments, parking, and flex zones for outdoor dining and retail. Other priorities included redesigning parks to help them better connect to the surrounding blocks and storefronts and creating new open space with amenities like tot lots, dog runs and flexible event space.

The Form + Place team is encouraging the city to help developers facilitate the integration of more ground-floor commercial and community spaces. This, Wang said, will support opportunities for local businesses to remain a part of the neighborhood.

A proposed multifamily residential project in Freeport, ME designed by Form + Place.


Freeport, Maine, is a town that’s known for its exciting retail options, from the Freeport Outlets to the L.L. Bean flagship store. But the one thing that is missing is a multifamily development that could provide more residential options for the area and offer Freeport residents a place where they could live in the center of the action — close to the best shops and just a stone’s throw from the Amtrak station that can transport them to Portland and areas to the south. 

JHR Development has been working on a project to fill that void. The Depot Street apartments feature 67 residential units right in the heart of Freeport Village. Form + Place has contributed conceptual designs to this project that highlight a variety of strategies for accommodating parking, both under the building and on grade in a thoughtfully landscaped parking court. 

“Many areas that began as commercial corridors are now adding residential developments and the mix of uses creates diversity and a sense of belonging,” Rufo said. “In some instances, like in typical small American towns of the industrial era, they're going back to the original roots that formed an organic mix of uses along Main Street, where residential and commercial uses mixed and fed off each other. This project exemplifies that.”

A proposed urban design for Salem’s Court House Square by Form + Place (rendering by Tangram 3DS).


Salem, Massachusetts, is one of the most well-known historical cities in New England. Form + Place worked closely with JHR Development to provide a master plan for the section of downtown Salem that encompasses the historic 1861 Superior Courthouse, the County Commissioners building and an adjacent waterfront lot next to the MBTA Commuter Rail Station. 

The plan focused on preserving and providing public access to key historic features of the buildings by proposing a downtown campus for Salem State University, while integrating several new office spaces and multifamily residential buildings into the development. Form + Place’s designs also included an expanded courthouse green; an amphitheater that connected an upper and lower plaza; a publicly accessible kayak launch; and an urban design strategy that linked downtown Salem and the courthouses to the North River, a new waterfront multifamily building and the MBTA Station. The goal, Wang said, was to create a “more vibrant and ceremonial gateway to the downtown.”

“Salem is such an interesting study in how to realize the potential of what is right in front of you,” Rufo said. “The site of the old courthouse and County Commissioner’s building is surrounded by an incredible array of active uses. From the commuter rail station linking Salem to Boston, to the new court buildings immediately adjacent to the site, to the bustling, quirky, historic downtown of Salem that people love — it really has every type of use you could want.” 

He added that, despite these charms, pedestrians walk past the site and don't pay much attention to the beauty of these historic buildings. Form + Place’s goal was to find a way to put people in the middle of the equation to create something with energy and staying power.

“In each of these projects, the insertion of multifamily residential into an existing mixed-use context provides the critical mass needed to support a more diverse and engaged community,” Wang said. “This is at the core of Form + Place’s mission.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Form + Place. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to