A public place is the physical manifestation of a
democracy's need for different people NOT of like mind or like look to come together for unplanned reasons.  The public and private realms are both vital to a democracy, not one without the other and, surely, not one at the expense of the other.


We despair at the "uglification" of the manmade
environment, the loss of a sense of place, the sterility of our road culture, the repetitious "strip-scape" devouring the countryside, the repetitious "mall-scape" replacing downtowns, the frustration of our traffic congestion, the bankruptcy of our culture of commerce, and the homogenized aesthetic that passes for design.  But we accept these physical changes as inevitable, allow those who benefit
financially and professionally to rationalize its
continuance, and don't stop to seriously examine the
inherently undemocratic qualities and dysfunctional nature of a car-dependent society.

Even what are supposed to be public spaces or parks (parks should function as public places) don't work as public spaces, drawing people for many reasons at different times during a day.  Too many parks, waterfronts, and open spaces serve worker populations well at lunchtime, offer leisure time crowds organized entertainment, and serve sports
audiences well for competitive events.  Louisville,
Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Charlotte,
North Carolina, and many other cities have lavish,
expansive, and highly acclaimed waterfronts that fit this bill.  Without programs to draw people from afar and too many arriving by car, they are dead.  While the band is playing, space is splendid.  Lots of people.  Few undesirables.  Between planned events, these public places sit empty because a diverse mixture of people do not live, work, visit, or spend leisure time in the vicinity, keeping the place populated throughout the day.

A true public space in a downtown should not need to be programmed to draw people.  No matter how beautiful, how "designed" a public space or park is, it will be empty of people most of the time if a user population does not live nearby.  That user population must bring on foot the variety of humanity witnessed in such landmark parks as New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the Boston Common, or Seattle's Pioneer Square.  People who
work, play, live go to school, or just visit must be in the vicinity on a regular basis, or, at least, be an easy mass transit trip away.

NEXT PAGE: Bryant Park...