Civic Space: Creating Community

Public space, or as many urbanists refer to it, civic space, sets the stage for community building. The study of how we use public space has been refined by Jan Gehl over the last thirty years, since the publication of his Life Between Buildings in 1987. A couple of weeks ago, Gehl released his Public Life Data Protocol, in an attempt to establish a standard method for the global collection of data on how we inhabit our civic spaces. And help the rest of us become better urban observers. Continue Reading

Triangular Plazas: Flexible, outdoor rooms with meaningful uses

Last year I enjoyed thinking of the critical components of a successful plaza: activity, locals, and a third place. Great plazas are hosts to community engagement any time of the day or evening, they attract both locals and tourists, and always have a third place fronting at least one edge of the outdoor room. A recent trip to France provided a study of the unusual triangular plaza, or place. These triangular French spaces reminded me of a very special New Mexican plaza of my home state. They all have a civic use anchoring the base of the space, a mixture of uses framing the space, and opportunity for meaningful, flexible community activity in the space itself.

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The Plaza: What is required for a community living room?

Recent trips to Spain and Germany have me appreciating the nuances of three plazas I had the pleasure of experiencing. Each plaza was a different character and scale from the other, which if I had to sum up simply, I’d call Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor: A City Plaza, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt: A Civic Plaza, and Zafra’s Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica: Neighborhood Plazas. All share some common qualities, including being very active almost any time of day and in any weather, populated by what appear to be locals as well as visitors, and all have third places fronting at least one side of the plaza. But after that, the differences abound. It’s enjoyable to have the pause of vacation to study these spaces and think about what lessons we might bring home.

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Gathering Places: Providers of comfort and joy

To wish you the happiest of holidays, I’d like to share some recent thoughts about the importance of gathering places both in the public and private realm, particularly as it relates to children, solace, and song. In celebration of the season, those places — when well planned and cultivated — become particularly poignant.

Take private porches, for example. My son’s grades two and three Caroling Club trudged happily through a couple feet of snow this week, in our traditional neighborhood. Their goal? Just to sing and share some joy – no funds were raised, although the last house did produce hot coco and doughnut holes.

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(Public) Space: The final frontier

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ‘em down for your consideration.

Today I offer a quick study relating cities of the US West to Leon Krier’s decidedly European Public Space Quantity Ratio.

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