Memorable and livable neighborhoods, towns, and cities are made so by a specific type of place that has the unique ability to spark and continuously energize the district that grows around it. They are the necessary vernacular counterbalance to large, formal public spaces and are home to our daily and, at times, serendipitous lives. They are not our civic squares but rather our Everyday Squares.
This, of course, is not a new idea but often a forgotten one. Fortunately, the craft of making authentic places for people has been entrusted to the small businesses, risk takers, and tinkerers that, amidst much adversity, preserve and celebrate healthy and resilient neighborly living. These entrepreneurs and the intimate public spaces they curate are the keepers of a town building language that until only recently has been largely overlooked in an age of big plans, silver bullet development initiatives, over leveraging, and exclusionary zoning. With the weaknesses of that age now exposed, we look to these innovators for inspiration and building patterns that inform how we regenerate our towns and build new urban districts.
Essential Characteristics of Everyday Squares:
- Small, implement-able in early phases of development with limited initial capital outlay
- Creates the "seed" energy to leverage future investments, on and off-site
- Stimulating and active at multiple times of the day and week
- Works at the scale of the village, neighborhood, town, and city
- Fosters planned or spontaneous interactions between new and old friends
Documenting and learning from Everyday Squares naturally begins in a place such as Pittsburgh, a city that found its historical strength and its recent resurgence in legible neighborhoods that depend on the types of “third places” that small taverns, coffee houses, and other service shops bring to catalyze neighborhood vibrancy. With a team of researchers from Urban Design Associates, we interviewed Everyday Square founders, measured the Square’s urban dimensions, and documented the interplay between the place and its context, how it is used, and the role it plays in bringing people together.
Everyday Squares are not unique to Pittsburgh. Hamlets, villages, towns, and cities the world over feature locally-attuned patterns for the way in which Everyday Squares contribute to the economy of a place. This manual is intended as a living tool to be both used and added to incrementally over time by designers, developers, business owners, and policy makers.
Joe Nickol is an urban design and real estate development advisor with Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh, PA, focused on the regeneration of urban centers and neighborhoods in North America and abroad. He is also the cofounder of www.Street-Sense.org, where this blog previously appeared.
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