Making our community better places
Some of PPS's best partners through the years have been institutions like libraries, museums, and Main Street associations who have a deep. Residents are more likely to accept a change if they are involved in the project. Plan your community engagement phase. For example, create. 60 Ways to Better Your Community ; Neighborhood Enhancement. Help people paint and repair their homes. Volunteer to clean up trash around a neighborhood. CRYPTO CORRECT EXTENSION
Throw a block party. A great way to make those introductions or to reconnect with neighbors you already know but seldom speak with is to throw a block party. Put together some games and activities for the kids, some drinks and snacks for the adults, and start mingling.
Want to make sure all the kids are occupied? Plant a community garden. When you put in the backbreaking work together and then hold the products of that labor in your hands, a special bond is created. Set up a community resource center. What do we mean by resources? Tools, for instance. They can be expensive, and how many table saws does one neighborhood really need? If someone owns one, put it on the list for when neighbors have home improvement projects coming up.
Books or DVDs work too. You can also put together a stockpile of business cards letting neighbors know what trades and professions are represented in the neighborhood. There might be mechanics and plumbers as well as lawyers, teachers, and home decorators. The new Marketplace is as full of tourists as of locals, and the old market functions only at the edges, within a smaller space and more limited hours of operation than in the past.
Many similar mall developments cater primarily to an upscale clientele, effectively shutting out lower income residents. Whether a particular mall is actually a good place for interaction or not is often largely a matter of opinion, and dependent on the preconceptions of the observer.
In order for that to be the case, these spaces need four basic characteristics: There has to be a reason for people to go there. People in the space have to feel safe and comfortable. The space has to be welcoming and accessible to everyone. Why create good places for interaction? They can help to develop a sense of community pride and ownership. They can help build a true sense of community among people of diverse origins, backgrounds, and points of view.
By getting to know one another, people with different histories and assumptions can establish relationships and begin to value their differences as well as their similarities. Through contact with friends with different world views, children can broaden their own, and realize there are different ways of looking at and experiencing life, and different paths that people can take.
They can make the community a more pleasant place to live because more people have contact with one another. It creates a sense of community, and makes you feel that this is your place and these are your people. They can increase the general enjoyment of life in the community. The sharing of food, traditions, games, festivals, and family celebrations — whether with people from various cultures or with neighbors from similar backgrounds — simply makes life more fun.
The opportunity for relaxed conversation with old friends or new acquaintances, a place to sit in the winter sun, a neighborhood festival — all of these enrich our lives. They can increase safety and security. When people in the neighborhood know one another from meeting regularly, they are more likely to look out for one another as well.
That means eyes on the street, a feeling of ownership of the neighborhood, and less tolerance of both crime and unsafe situations speeding traffic in residential areas, cracked sidewalks where elders might trip, open manholes, etc. They can improve the livability of neighborhoods. Good places for interaction are also good places to be. That in itself improves neighborhood livability, but such spaces may also nurture the kind of neighborhood solidarity and good feeling that leads to neighborhood clean-ups, taking back the streets from drug dealers and gangs, and advocating for increases in services.
The differences in culture, in most cases, become interesting, rather than threatening, as people become more comfortable and friendly with one another. The sharing of food, traditions, and celebrations help to break down the barriers to the appreciation of diversity. They can provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. The more people interact, and particularly the more they engage in enjoyable or substantive activities together — helping to build a playground in a neighborhood park, participating in a community celebration — the more they find out about one another, and the more they begin to understand that their goals are similar, even though their ideas about how to achieve them may be different.
That understanding leads to mutual respect and a broadening of views — although not necessarily to agreement — and strengthens the community as a whole They can increase equity. By encouraging people of different economic levels to mix and develop relationships, the interactive spaces in a community can provide low-income people with some of the social networking opportunities that people higher up the economic ladder take for granted.
The ultimate result, in some cases, may be a neighborhood or community presenting a united front in a fight for greater equity. It can also lead to employment opportunities and other possibilities that allow lower-income people to change their lives.
They can increase social capital, particularly bridging social capital. Social capital is the sum of the benefit that people build up from their web of relationships. Bonding social capital is the advantage people develop from relationships with those who are essentially similar to themselves. Bridging social capital is that gained from relationships with people who are quite different, whether in culture, race or ethnicity, economic status, political philosophy, or all of these and more besides.
All social capital comes from constructing networks of acquaintance and friendship through meeting and getting to know others. The opportunity for that can come from repeated business transactions, from neighborhood events, or simply from meeting on the street day after day in your neighborhood.
Social capital is somewhat like economic capital. Social capital grows for both participants in almost every interaction, and with every new person added to a network. Joining an organization or a group often increases it greatly, both because membership may imply certain kinds of obligations that members have to one another, and because it increases social interactions and familiarity with other members, thereby creating a stronger network.
Social capital, like financial capital, flows both ways. You continue to earn it through various kinds of positive interactions, including acknowledging and fulfilling your obligations to others in the network helping friends move into a new apartment, or taking care of their dog. They can increase the chances for concerted community action and social change.
The building of a sense of community can also build a sense of shared purpose. Community action depends on prior interaction. Creating good places for interaction should always be kept in mind. The time is especially ripe for creating such places when there is an opening — when the opportunity arises to create a new outdoor or indoor space, or to change an existing one to make it more interactive. Sometimes you can create an opening through civic action, advocacy, or making a suggestion in the right place at the right time; sometimes the opening simply presents itself.
Some of those occasions: When the neighborhood or community is engaged in a planning process. Raising the issue of interactive space in public meetings, with property owners interested in developing their lots, abutters to public parks, planners, etc. Montreal, Canada, which can be bitterly cold for several months a year, has a network of underground streets, well-lit and full of stores, restaurants, and access to buildings, throughout the downtown area. These passages, free of vehicle traffic, out of the weather, and accessible from numerous buildings and from the street, are used daily by half a million people.
This is a good time to confer with both the developer and the officials granting permits about the inclusion of interactive space, inside, outside, or both. This can be approached as compensation to the neighborhood for the disturbance caused by construction; as a trade-off for zoning exceptions; as a zoning change that would mandate the inclusion of interactive space in any development of a certain size; or as an option that could be encouraged by tax incentives.
As with anything, you have to be careful what you wish for. There are many sad tales of skyscrapers in New York and elsewhere whose developers built the mandated public plaza outside their buildings, but with little attention to interactive characteristics.
The result, all too often, turned out to be a barren, windswept space where the main interactions were drug deals and panhandling. When any major municipal project is in process. Whether it is road or bridge repair or construction, new sidewalks, a new public building, or a complete redesign of a city square or park, you can advocate for design that includes or incorporates spaces that encourage interaction.
When a neighborhood or community gathering place is, or is in danger of, falling into decay or being overrun by gangs, drug dealers, or others who make it unpleasant and dangerous for the community to use it. The example for this section relates how a diverse group of residents in Toronto revitalized a park in a working-class neighborhood and made it a center of activity that attracts neighborhood residents from all backgrounds, and binds them together in a joint effort to maintain it.
When barriers to interaction are proposed. When this is the case, advocacy is in order, either to stop or relocate the project, or to include in it ways to soften or eliminate its negative effects on community interaction.
When an existing good place for interaction is threatened. State or local budget cuts may threaten the closure of a park or a community center. A new owner may decide that public access to the landscaped plaza and art-filled lobby of an office building causes too much wear and tear. Spaces where people come together can be threatened for any number of reasons, and it may take some work on the part of the community to reverse the situation.
Immigrant groups may feel — perhaps rightly — that they are looked down on or misunderstood by their native-born neighbors. Those native-born groups may be worried about immigrants taking their jobs, or simply uncomfortable with unfamiliar customs and language. Who should be involved in creating good places for interaction? For people with young families, safe and exciting places for children or for family-oriented activities may be important.
For youth, it may be sports or game facilities, or the availability of food and drink. For older people, numerous places to sit might be uppermost. For others, it might be interesting things to do, or how the space looks. The best way to design a space that fits the needs of the users is to involve them. There are others who also might have an interest in creating spaces where interaction takes place.
They include: Local officials. Good spaces for interaction improve the quality of life in the community, a goal that most local officials share, and one that is likely to improve the economic climate as well. Planners, architects, and designers. People whose profession involves the design of spaces are trained to think about how people use those spaces.
Interaction is a goal in most current thinking about communities, much of which seeks to combine the natural interactive characteristics of the small towns and villages of long ago with a modern understanding of how people use space and how psychological, as well as physical, barriers can be eliminated, and places made welcoming.
For professionals, creating good places for interaction is both an interesting challenge and a way to do their jobs well. A developer can increase the attractiveness of his property by incorporating spaces that people want to use. In addition, he may be able to take advantage of incentives in return for providing such spaces.
Community leaders and opinion makers. These folks — respected community members, clergy, officers of community organizations, etc. The business community. Good places for interaction often include businesses, and those that do are almost always good places to do business. The more such spaces exist in a community, the better business is likely to be. The police and the court system. Good, well-used and well-populated gathering places make the community safer and reduce the overall crime rate by cutting down on the opportunity for crime, particularly violent crime.
They thus make the job of the police easier and less dangerous, and ease the burden on the courts. Community activists and community-based organizations. By and large, community building is the aim of these individuals and groups, and supporting interactive places is a natural step toward strengthening community bonds. There are four aspects of creating good places for interaction: Design: What should a space look like, feel like, and contain in order to be a good place for interaction?
Incentives and regulations: How do you convince developers, builders, and businesses to include good spaces for interaction in their projects? Community action: How can community members themselves plan and create a good space for interaction? Advocacy: How do you convince local and other governments to pay attention to and foster the development of good places for interaction, to include them in their own projects, and to require — or at least support — the inclusion of such spaces in private projects?
Incentives and regulations are the tools by which policy favorable to good public spaces can be implemented; community action and advocacy — as well as the ballot — are ways in which the public can influence the direction of policy in the first place. They can make design that takes interaction into account part of the civic culture of a community.
Design Until the 20th Century, villages, towns, and cities all were full of natural gathering places. Depending upon the historic time and place, life revolved around the marketplace, the church, the courthouse, the pub, the post office, the town hall, the train station, or the town or village center. People sat on stoops and porches, or in the street, watching and talking to their neighbors and anyone else who passed by. With the coming of telephones, radio and TV, and, ultimately, computers, that all changed.
People no longer had to gather physically to communicate or find amusement. In the developed world, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker consolidated and became the supermarket. Many of the natural spaces where people gathered disappeared under skyscrapers, shopping malls, and corporate headquarters. One of the community building challenges of the 21st Century is to incorporate natural gathering places — good places for interaction — into the design of everything from cities themselves to ten-unit elderly housing complexes.
If a community actually engages in planning — by no means a given — and if it actually carries out the plan it comes up with, making changes to meet the needs of citizens as it goes — also not a given — it can work with developers, architects, and others to create spaces that bring people together rather than keep them apart. All of these are, to a greater or lesser extent, dependent on design. Good places for interaction provide reasons for people to go there Those reasons could be ones of necessity — public transportation hubs, shopping areas, workplaces — or of preference — amusement parks, cafe districts, parks, museums, public squares.
The activity could be a simple one, like sitting in the sun, or could involve shopping, dinner, and a movie or play. Some of the features or activities that might attract people to a space include: Cafes and restaurants or food vendors.
Establishments that serve food and drink draw people, especially in pleasant areas where they can set out tables on a sidewalk or square in good weather. Grocery shopping. Grocery shopping may seem one of the least interesting of activities, but it doesn't have to be. The atmosphere is so inviting that the market is actually a destination, particularly for young families. Before or after the family shops, the children can get something they like to eat and then play in the playground while the adults enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee and a leisurely, relatively uninterrupted conversation.
The variety of products available; the chance to chat with vendors, many of whom may have made or grown what they sell; the opportunity for conversation with friends and strangers; fresh food either prepared or from market stalls — all add reasons to spend a morning, rather than an hour at the market. Store fronts that bring people onto the street are important for street life. They make the streetscape interesting, encourage pedestrian traffic, keep the scene lively, provide eyes on the street i.
Museums, libraries, and similar public-access buildings and their surroundings. Some of these buildings have gathering places built into them — courtyards, lounges, outdoor plazas with seating, etc. Many of these spaces can be used for events, and thus become destinations.
The courtyard in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hosts performances by nationally and internationally known musicians on summer evenings. The museum also opens its galleries on the first Friday of the month to a social gathering. Subway, bus, and train stations and airports can be filled with features that encourage interaction, as well as making them pleasant places to be.
Community festivals and other special events. These might be held in streets closed off to vehicle traffic, in squares and plazas, in parks, or in various kinds of indoor spaces schools, churches, town halls, convention centers. People are naturally attracted to music, of many different forms, but especially forms that fit with the local culture.
There might be a noontime concert in the square, or in a local church; a pickup group might play informally in the late afternoon or evening; in smaller communities, townspeople may gather at the local bandstand. In all these cases, the sound of music has significant drawing power. Street performers. In places as different as the Ramblas in Barcelona and Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, street performers — musicians, storytellers, mimes, magicians, and others — draw crowds and create an exciting street scene.
Playhouses, concert halls, and movie theaters. A thought-provoking play or movie, or an exceptional or unusual performance can start a conversation within a group, or even among strangers. The same is true for a pocket park or a dramatic square. As mentioned above, a place to sit is an invitation to stay a while. Movable chairs and tables are by far the best option, since they give people the chance to sit where they like, in whatever groups they choose to, and to face one another or not.
The more comfortable people are, the more likely they are to linger. And the more they can face one another, the more likely they are to enter into conversation. The pace of modern life is a presumed culprit; in any case, those seeking to create god places for interaction must examine the possible barriers to meeting and interacting in a given community setting, and look for ways to surmount them.
A mix of sun and shade, if the space is outdoors. Sun beckons in the late fall, winter, and early spring, but is too strong for many people in the warmer months, although umbrellas or canopies can help here. A mix of large and more intimate spaces. People need both places to be alone or to have private conversations with one or two other people, and places where many people can gather.
The intimate spaces, at least in some cultures, may be the more important. Food and drink. Offering food and drink and a place to consume them is an obvious method of inducing people to spend time in a place. Pleasant or spectacular views. A quiet meadow with cows lying in the shade; blooming gardens backed by beautiful or unusual buildings; waves crashing on a rocky shore; the glass and steel towers of a modern city — people will happily spend their time gazing pleasing or dramatic vistas.
Green space. Running water either actually cools the air or gives the illusion of doing so in hot weather, and its sound is calming. As mentioned above, water meant survival to our ancestors, and we still seek it out. A natural water feature, such as a stream or lake, can invite us to pause in a park; a fountain can have the same effect in a more confined space or indoors.
Quiet amid the noise and hurry of a city. Paley and GreenAcre Parks, a few blocks apart in midtown New York City, offer not only oases of green and comfortable movable seating, but man-made waterfalls that drown out the noise of the surrounding streets. Interesting or pleasant places to walk. Sitting in one place is hardly the only way to use a space.
Paths that seem to promise a new sight around each curve can draw visitors through a park. An interesting street scene pulls people along. Walking may not seem interactive, but it often is. Many people prefer to walk with companions, often engaging in serious conversation. Parents walking with their children not only interact as a family, but may also meet other families that way — children can be less shy than adults about talking to strangers in safe situations.
People walking alone will often take pleasure from meeting a friend, neighbor, or casual acquaintance by chance, and chatting briefly, or simply greeting them and moving on. And those who are dog owners also often find themselves making acquaintances who are interested in their pets. A mix of different kinds of things to see and do. Some spaces are meant for one specific purpose — quiet contemplation, viewing cultural events, or providing play possibilities for children, for instance. Other spaces retain people and promote interaction by offering a wide variety of activities — shopping, events, a lively street scene, food vendors, places to sit and people-watch, etc.
Some of the elements that can help spaces feel safe for their users: The presence of a variety of individuals and groups. When people see families, singles, groups, and people of all ages and backgrounds using a space, they both assume it must be safe, and feel safe themselves, because of the presence of so many others. The presence of women. The presence of police or citizen patrols, or police call boxes. Proximity to busy streets or places of business.
Having a place to retreat to easily, and knowing that there are people nearby, increases the sense of safety. Good lighting. A proven deterrent to crime, good lighting also adds to safety and to the attractiveness of a space and its usefulness for activities. Eyes on the street. Storefronts, offices, or residences with street level windows greatly increase the sense of safety and reduce the opportunity for crime. Safe areas for children to play.
Areas where children are likely to play need to be reasonably safe for kids, rather than places where an unwatched two-year-old can easily drown, for instance, or where a fall from a swing or slide can result in serious injury. Paving playground surfaces with recycled rubber rather than gravel or concrete is one method of making a play space safer without cutting down on fun and opportunities for kids to test themselves.
Some elements that can make spaces feel more comfortable: Cleanliness and visible maintenance. People are not likely to want to linger amid litter and graffiti. In the case of a neighborhood park, playground, or other public space, if you enlist local teens to participate in the planning of the space, they might also act as volunteers in keeping it clean.
Lots of light, particularly natural sunlight whether indoors or out. Like green space and water, light makes us feel good. Studies show that we respond positively to light in a number of ways, and spaces with lots of natural light are comfortable for us. Protection or screening from street traffic. Greenery can also screen noise, as can setting a space back from the street. Comfortable furniture.
Contoured chairs or benches are far more inviting than stone slabs to sit on. Indoors, upholstered couches or chairs encourage lounging more than straight-backed wooden chairs do. Tables imply that food and drink are welcome, providing another element of comfort. Good places for interaction are welcoming and accessible to everyone If people are going to use a particular space in any numbers, they have to feel that the space is intended to be used by people like them.
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