We explore the life and death of urban public space in England and Italy. Guess which country gets the thumbs-up …
Britain has a tradition of beautifully landscaped gardens and parks, but we haven't evolved an understanding of how to create qualitative public space. We must address this if we are to develop sustainable urban regeneration.

With the recent launch of CABESpace, it is topical to ask why public areas in so many of our town and city centres are so poor compared with those in Europe. Everyone says it's to do with the weather, but I'd argue that it has more to do with the political and social climate. We undervalue urban public space as a generator for social interchange, and there's long been a lack of vision or investment.

So, my blunder is Redhill, an example of a bleak English town centre with horrible public space. Traffic-clogged and dead out of hours, it has an oversupply of empty offices and decaying retail malls. My wonder is a square in San Gimignano, Tuscany – the Piazza Della Cisterna. It isn't vehicle-free (often felt to be a requirement for successful urban space). It's surrounded by wonderful 13th-century palazzi embracing a rich mix of uses – town hall, hotel, apartments, shops and the soaring towers that make San Gimignano so unique. At its heart is the town's medieval well. It has a fantastic ability to absorb life, and works when it's deserted and when it's bustling.