Public Spaces

I watched the film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces twice, and I found it amazing. The film discusses how the design and architecture of spaces impacts its use. After I first watched the film with Jasmin in her class, I felt like I was suddenly very aware of how the space around me was used and how it could be improved. I felt more like a flaneur than ever before.

The film by Streetblog about New York’s Summer Streets project also provokes thought. It’s clear that people enjoy it when they are able to take the street back from cars and can use it in different ways, ways other than travel. I am reminded of the Utah Arts Festival that takes place every year near the city library. Some of the nearby streets (notably the street between the library and City Hall) are closed, and instead is repurposed for food and artists’ booths. It simply feels good to be able to walk through that space without cars, to be able to slow down and enjoy the area. I would love to see Salt Lake City try Summer Streets here, and see what happens.

… the plaza is… too open, and this makes the plaza a space that needs to be traversed rather than a space people spend a lot of time in, save for towards the edges.

The Marriott library plaza is a space I cross on a regular basis. I can’t say I spend a lot of time in the plaza and treat it as a social space; there are few places there where I would feel comfortable sitting, in all honesty (save maybe for the grass). After watching the film, I suddenly became flooded with ideas about how the plaza could be improved. I feel that the plaza is still too open, and this makes the plaza a space that needs to be traversed rather than a space people spend a lot of time in, save for towards the edges.

One way to make the plaza a more interesting place would be to break up its flatness and monotony by taking out some of the concrete blocks in the ground and replacing them with large planters, the sides of which being low and wide enough to serve as a ledge where people can sit. There is something like that at the edge of the plaza, but I like the idea of these being spread throughout the plaza as well. In my mind’s eye, the plaza would become a friendlier, more inviting place.

There is a downside to this change, however. During the warmer months of the year, the plaza is frequently used for booths, festivals, and so forth. Sometimes a basketball court is laid out in the middle of the plaza. Food trucks also use the plaza extensively. One should also remember that foot traffic still needs to move through here. It is possible that my idea would make it difficult for the plaza to be used for these purposes. On the other hand, the right design may make the resulting alcoves still useable yet somewhat more intimate, since the space feels smaller. So the idea is still worth considering.

All in all, the films I have seen have helped open my eyes and see spaces in ways I haven’t seen them before. It’s hard to turn that state of mind off. But maybe it’s best that it not be turned off.

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