With Space Comes Place: Understanding the Extraordinary Value of Common Spaces In Our Communities
(11.20.14) Plazas, piazzas, town squares, campfires, parks, and other common spaces build community, period. These public commons allow us to share time and space with strangers. This encourages social connections and in doing so, builds a real sense of community.
Once people feel connected to place and community, by default they become engaged and involved. The reason? We are hard-wired to protect the things we love. Intuitively, we all know this. But it is very easy to forget.
To paraphrase William H. (Holly) Whyte (1917-1999), the pioneer of placemaking, creating places that attract people is easy; but creating spaces that repel or do not attract people requires planning and deliberate effort. The pictures below illustrate both good and bad examples of this idea.
Think about Holly’s point for a moment. I have been in community meetings where people wanted to remove benches from parks and public spaces. The reason: The belief that seats and benches make it easier for the “bad” people to hang out. Yet without benches and seats, the “good” people have no place to sit either. No seating means fewer eyes on the streets. Less eyes on the street equates to more crime and a much weaker sense of community – or no sense of community whatsoever. To me, this sounds like a lose-lose proposition. Say it with me: Without public spaces, we get no sense of place. Without a sense of place, we lose the chance to build social capital.
Who wins? Nobody.
The funny thing is that corporations such as Starbucks get it. In
addition to selling coffee, the local Starbucks serves as a place for conversations and creates a sense of community. Places like the local coffee shop or park serve as “Third Places” – places that are separate from the two usual places of home and the workplace (or the place
When the Knight Foundation announced its recent grant to the Designing for Robust Engagement initiative, I was happy. Working with the Center for Active Design, the initiative will develop design guidelines that will encourage community attachment, involvement and engagement. This can serve as a useful model as we at the Foundation implement our Strong Communities program strategy in the Greater Buckeye (Larchmere and Shaker Square), Mount Pleasant and Woodland Hills neighborhoods.
Sounds like a win-win proposition to me, so stay tuned.
By: Nelson Beckford
Senior Program Officer, Strong Communities
Saint Luke’s Foundation
For more information on Holly Whyte, click here.