Congratulations to IMCL Board Member Charlie Hales who won a clear victory as Portland’s next Mayor! Charlie has a passion for livable and lively cities, and a profound belief in social and cultural equity.

What would it take to create a neighborhood where, as a child you can play on your street and around your block, where you know by name people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and abilities because you meet them and talk with them on your way to school on foot or by bike? How can we create a neighborhood where, as an adult, you can walk or take public transit to work, to the movies or to go on vacation, and you have innumerable friends and activities within a few minutes’ bike ride? And how can we create a neighborhood where as an elder, you still have neighborhood friends you knew since childhood, neighbors stop by to check all is well if they don’t see you at your usual haunts, and you still enjoy a high quality of life because you can walk or take your power wheelchair the short distance to the coffee house, the grocery store, the doctor, to play chess in the park, or to visit your grandchildren?

This is what neighborhoods used to be like. We killed that diverse, independent and community-spirited quality of life when we created car-dependent suburban housing.  But visionary efforts are under way to revive complete neighborhoods hospitable for people at all stages of life, and abilities.

Most successful city squares in the US are programmed with a variety of activities throughout the year – festivals, markets, food, music, and cultural events.

There is another type of urban square that is economically and socially more sustainable because it is self-programmed. It does not require a full time manager to organize special events. The primary social function of this type of square is to support dialogue, be a catalyst for informal social interaction and familiarity among local citizens, foster inclusive community and civic engagement, and generate commerce. This type of square, while common in Europe, is virtually unknown in North America.

Where you live affects your health and life expectancy. A report released in September by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projects that obesity rates in 13 States will be over 60% by 2030.

It is high time for us to put to good use the technical mapping data that identify by census tract where the greatest levels of physical and social ill health exist, and to finally apply life-rescue operations for neighborhoods most in need.

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.

Syndicate content