America’s Use of Public Space: Some Lessons from Italy
August 5, 2016
August 5, 2016
Recently, my husband and I were lucky enough to spend two weeks traveling around the Italian countryside. It’s an interesting time for Americans to travel abroad, to say the least. As we traveled around, we met with Italians who remarked that fewer Americans than usual were visiting their communities. We chatted with British citizens enjoying a stop in “Chiantishire” and would say to them simply, “Brexit?” To which they replied, “Trump?” Well played.
Whenever I travel internationally, it’s always a reminder that the world is smaller than we think. When we sit in our living rooms and watch the news, the concerns of Europe seems far away and foreign. When you’re traveling, you have a reminder how close the world is. It’s one world, and concerns about safety and the challenges of a global economy transcend borders.
One difference that struck me as we traveled through Italy was the brilliance of how Italians use their open space. Villages have a central square that serve as a gathering place for the community. Independent restaurants and shops draw people in. It’s a model that we here in America are starting to adapt as well.
New York’s parks are overwhelmingly popular, as the New York Times reported this week. Bryant Park, which is just steps from SM&’s New York office, saw more than 3,000 people flock to the park for lunch on 112 separate days in 2015. Times Square in New York City experimented with closing some streets around the popular tourist destination in 2009; a move that was made permanent in 2013.
In Boston, Mayor Walsh announced that Newbury Street in Boston will go car-free from 10am to 6pm this Sunday, August 7, and may do so again if businesses support it.
Kendall Square has led the way in Greater Boston in creating communal spaces in its neighborhoods. SM& client Alexandria Real Estate has created an active space at Technology Square, with restaurants that face the green courtyard, keeping the space active during the workday and night. Cambridge’s leaders, especially MIT along with other stakeholders, continue to experiment with new ways to activate public spaces.
An opportunity that is ripe for a European-style use is the Rose Kennedy Greenway, just steps from our Boston offices. The park has come of age since its opening eight years ago and attracts visitors from around the region with its food trucks, farmers’ market and other programming. Now that locals and tourists alike use it, why not pick a space that can serve as a gathering place, with small, locally-owned permanent restaurants that serve food and cocktails year-round? It would bring additional visitors to the Greenway and bring a little flavor of la dolce vita to downtown Boston.
Where would you like to see public space better used? Let us know on Twitter at @SolomonMcCown.