Gracen Johnson wrote this piece last summer and it sparked something of a movement. In light of the impending summer months (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), when sitting outside becomes more appealing, we thought it was worth a re-read.
Last spring, Joe Minicozzi and I encountered this beauty:
We live in cities starved for good public space. There are so few spots in North America where you can sit comfortably (ie. safe, shaded, with a good perch/chair) and enjoy the city around you with zero expectation of spending money. It's a fact made more tragic when you realize how simple and cheap it can be to create wonderfully sittable space. Instead, many of our highest-potential urban environments are built to explicitly un-sittable standards using defensive architecture.
GOOD MONEY AFTER BAD
Other times, we do try to create linger-worthy public space and fail spectacularly. We often demand developers throw some cash toward green space or public amenities in order to get approval for construction. You see it all the time in subdivisions with exquisite landscaping, roundabouts, and benches that are only appreciated from behind a car window.
The idea of asking developers to contribute to public space is excellent (perhaps essential). By the looks of it, this has resulted in millions upon millions of dollars invested in pavilions, seating, greenery, and water features. Too bad that investment keeps ending up in places where no one would actually want to linger...
FOR EXAMPLE: PLACES I DON'T WANT TO SIT
I don't want to sit at this gazebo in an office park next to a power centre. Not even the neighbouring pond and fountain feature can entice me.
I don't want to sit at this drive thru, while staring at a stroad (street/road hybrid). Although, for irony and your enjoyment, Ryan and I did sit here for lunch (i.e. the person is this photo is an actor). "When you close your eyes, it kind of sounds like the ocean."
FOR EXAMPLE: PLACES I WOULD LIKE TO SIT
Imagine if we took all that wasted investment and directed it toward building more spaces like this.
I would like to sit on these amazing steps at the Halifax Farmers' Market. No purchase necessary.
I would like to sit at the tree patio here in Fredericton.
If you look carefully, there is money being spent all over the place on public space. A good chunk of that is wasted in environments where there is an excess of space and a shortage of people. If you are a city official that negotiates these kind of transactions, please fill me in. Why is this so messed up?
For the rest of us, I'd love to see some tweets of #PlacesIDontWantToSit and your favorite #PublicSpaceDoneWell.
Make sure to read Gracen's follow-up posts in this series:
(All photos by Gracen Johnson)