As most can attest from their daily routine in an urban setting, meeting people on the street is inevitable. Whether it is a stranger, an old friend, or a new acquaintance, the interesting thing that allows for this interaction is the space in which we move. These spaces are often called, plazas, promenades, sidewalks, streets, and even alleys. But in design, Landscape Architects, Planners, and Architects know these as civic spaces; the spaces that allow us to interact with one another; the spaces that allow for confrontation and opposition, but at the same time allow for embrace and engagement. These meeting places are the goal of design, but often times these spaces have simply evolved to act as they do.
Instead of redesigning or recreating these spaces, many designers, such as Architect Jan Gehl, are moving toward innovative reuse of existing spaces. This is an order that not only preserves the existing atmosphere and setting, but also offsets the need for redesign, which can often lead to unnecessary demolition of materials, and environmental disturbance.
Walking out of my Baltimore row home to catch the bus, I am peppered with meeting places at every turn. Walking to my bus, at every glance, I see people using whatever means they can find to engage with one another. The stoop outside my door, the broken bench on the corner, the curb at the bus stop; no matter what the original intention of the space was upon first being conceived, individuals love to use whatever one can find to relax, wait, and discuss. Every step is a seat, every curb is a waiting area, and every street tree is a park.
The scene is the same once reaching my destination in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The hustle and bustle of the wide sidewalks and parallel promenade capture so many pedestrians and passersby. Some stop to talk and dodge the sun while under the filtered canopy of trees, while others use it solely as thoroughfare, but the old city and its infrastructure still serve as a medium for interaction.
The spaces that exist in an already developed city can often be interwoven into the fabric of the city to ward off the necessity of redevelopment. Is your city filled with well established meeting grounds, or is it in need of a retrofit?