Blog

Until the nineteenth century, a square or plaza was a hard surfaced open space between buildings, a place for contact with our fellow human beings in exchange, dialogue, debate, play and democratic decision making. Parks belonged to the nobility and were for recreation and contact with nature. The confusion began in the 19th century when market squares were refashioned into gardens.

No wonder that today, when a square or a plaza is created in America, it turns out to be a squark!

The idea is simple. People who live close – within a 10 minute walk – to grocery stores, transit lines, parks, and other essential services, can more easily minimize environmental impacts and maximize a healthy lifestyle. Making choices that benefit one’s self and society at large should be a real option, not a constant battle against the mainstream. It seems only natural that the way we construct urban environments should conform to the principle of practical proximity.

Plaza San Martín de Tours is by no means the most celebrated square in Buenos Aires. Historically, political unrest has expressed itself in the Plaza de Mayo, which sits directly in front of Argentina’s Pink House, the seat of federal power. In the San Telmo neighborhood, the Plaza Dorrego boasts one of the most vibrant open air markets in the world. Yet, while these other squares serve as sights of extraordinary events, Plaza San Martín de Tours, situated at the intersection of bustling thoroughfares, hosts an occurrence of understated importance: the everyday gatherings of everyday people.

If you are concerned with making our cities and suburbs healthy and livable for all, take a look at the wise and invaluable book, Elderburbia. Written by Philip Stafford[i], director of the Center on Aging and Community and the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University, this book speaks to urban designers, planners and architects as well as city officials, social workers, activists, and elders themselves.

From a deep appreciation of how the built environment affects everyday life and well-being, a profound understanding of the aging process and of the human need for membership in a multi-generational “complete” community, Stafford draws principles and guidelines for achieving elder-friendly communities. These characteristics have much in common with those for child-friendly communities promoted by IMCL and the Child-Friendly Communities Alliance.

The IMCL Healthy Communities Urban Plazas Award was presented to landscape architect, Deane Rundell[i] at a ceremony on Main Street Square, Rapid City, SD on Saturday, August 25, in the midst of a festive program of events. The day started with a market in the alley, guitar concert, children’s dance group, and after lunch came a Western music band, a Celebrity Cook-out Competition, beer and wine stalls, and another band that played into the evening. Around the edges of the main events were opportunities for kids to learn to lasso a steer, and farm animals to pet.

Main Street Square has truly become the heart of Rapid City, SD. This is where local residents come to meet and participate in celebratory events. The square has become a special attraction for children, whose parents and grandparents bring them up to 40 miles to play in the fountains in the summer, or to skate in the winter.  It provides a hospitable, expense-free setting in the evening for tourists back from visiting Mt Rushmore, the Badlands, Deadwood City and the National Parks, and a great amenity for local citizens all day.

Confronted with tumultuous weather patterns, global warming, and the end of oil looming in the not so distant future, the United States’ interest in sustainable urban design has begun to take hold. Dr. Timothy Beatley, a professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at University of Virginia, has been emphasizing the importance of creating greener communities for nearly two decades. His book, Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities researched the enormous strides many European countries have made toward the formation of more environmentally conscious urban development.

Picture your daily commute to work. Wake up, get into your car, sit in traffic for an hour, listen to bad talk radio and get to the office late because you couldn’t find parking. Now imagine this: wake up, jump on your bike, and meet your friend at the bike path which is conveniently located near your home. Take a leisurely ride along a serene bike path free of car traffic and stop lights. Park your bike in a locker located inside your office, and arrive on time at work stress free. For some cities in Europe, this dream has become reality.

The public realm, at its best, generates joy. You can see it in the children jumping up and down, in the embrace and tender kiss of a young couple, in the desire to sway, to dance together, in the smiles between strangers as, with burning eyes, they acknowledge a shared experience. In this mutual acknowledgement the lonely feel united with others. Those in pain forget their suffering and are at one with the world. Elders stand taller and inhale deeply a rejuvenating air of being part of a community. Seeing others filled with delight creates joy in the onlooker.

Fiscal conservatives and politicians have fought tooth and nail to try to delay the construction of high-speed rail, arguing that the overall cost would far exceed the benefits. But what if high-speed rail could generate billions of dollars for the economy in a brief amount of time? What if the cost of construction could be offset in a matter of years not decades? A new report released on July 10, 2012 at a congressional briefing conducted by the American Public Transit Association suggests that building high-speed rail will generate nearly $26.4 billion in the next 40 years. 

How well does our transit system connect where people live to where the jobs are? Not at all well, according to a new Brookings Institute report, Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metro America. While most urban jobs are near transit, most employees are not.

Syndicate content