Observations: At Home and Abroad

Our (Rachel and I) last observation was done on the Thursday afternoon before break, a gorgeous day with bluebird skies and a bello temperature. Arriving around 2 pm, I expected to find a few people on their lunch break, but didn’t find any. For the majority of our time at the terrace, it was very quiet and altogether quite pleasant–an excellent place to spend an hour after a week of midterms.

What my observations at the terrace got me thinking about was how people use a space, and as I travelled I realized I was constantly observing and analyzing how many people were using a public space, and in what way they were using it.

In the city of Madrid, for instance, there are too fairly decent examples of a public space that works well and fits the needs of it citizens, and a space that leaves something to be desired.

On the one hand, a space that I observed as greatly used and ostensibly loved by the people of the neighborhood, is the Dos de Mayo square of the Malasaña neighborhood. This square had around 8 different cafes and restaurants surrounding it, along with small boutiques and shops. In addition, it had enough trees to provide adequate shade, and a playground to keep kids more than busy. In a different frame of mind: Jane Jacobs would approve–there are eyes on the street, and it gets fairly continuous use. When I was there on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the plaza was packed with families and young couples out for a drink or lunch and playing with their kids.

 

Conversely, a similar space in a not so different neighborhood, the Plaza de Salvador Dali–recently reengineered by the city– is shockingly underused. In such a large space and in such a prominent neighborhood, I would’ve thought that perhaps the space would be alive with the hustle and bustle of a large capital city. On the contrary, the space seemed much more like it was simply used a shortcut from one place to another, rather than a place to spend time. The large slanted concrete blocks (for lack of a better term) do not lend themselves to much use, and are rather cold and imposing in my opinion. In other words, they don’t lend themselves to the best usage of a space in the manner that a simple park bench might have been able to do better.

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Recent Observations

With the confusion as to when the last blog post was due, there has been a gap in our regular observations, so our observations over the past two and a half weeks will culminate into this somewhat rant-like post.

Since the unforeseen break in our posts, I have visited the terrace four or five times over the span of three weeks: once with Talia, and around three other times on my own. All of which have lead me to observe differing characteristics about the terrace. With Talia, there was a severe lack of pushers this time, but we made an equally interesting observation. On the left side of the terrace (when facing out toward the city) we saw a man throw multiple buckets of, what appeared to be paint, over the ledge and into the bushes. We looked over and found a large pile that had accumulated. I’m not sure of the legality of this, but I feel like this is an overlooked deterrent for the terrace regardless. Aside from this, we saw several people come and enjoy the terrace, including two people having a photoshoot.

The other times I returned to the terrace, I was alone. I made a phone call home one of the times and stayed at the terrace for over an hour, and watched several people come and go. Some of which were the pushers Talia and I observed the last time we both made our observations together, although this time they did not seem to be “on the job”, but enjoying the view themselves. Each time I returned, people were sitting on both of the  bleachers, and I took a place along the ledge further down the terrace. I think expanding or building more inclusive seating would be very beneficial to the area.

I also returned at night one of the days, somewhere around 8 or 9pm. There were three people there and all taking pictures facing the city. My first reaction was that the space needed more lighting, but I know this has been a problematic aspect we have discussed already.

In short, the times I have visited the terrace over the past few weeks have far exceeded my expectations. My previous encounters with the space had been limited and I felt as if I saw the terrace in some of its most unflattering moments, but this time has proven that the space is being used beneficially and there is real growth to be observed.

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The True Nature of the Cortone Terrance by Morgan Nash

Throughout the semester my class has slowly learned about the neighborhood of Borgo Bello, particularly the area surrounding the terrace on Via del Cortone. From observations to interviews we have found that most of the time the terrace is a quiet setting where people go to relax, chat with friends and enjoy the scenery. However, in the past there have also been louder events there like the inauguration event a few years ago with a local band playing. Personally, I like to think about the terrace as a quiet place to enjoy leisure activities.

For my most recent observation with Giselle, we packed some snacks and brought along our friend who wanted do some sketching. Upon arrival we saw one young man casually sitting on the bleachers, seemingly taking in the view of Perugia and lost in thought. Throughout the hour we saw an older woman come to the ledge above the terrace to look at the view and a few young children played ball in the parking lot.

Most of the observations have included use by a diverse population. I have seen teenagers through elderly come to the terrace for a variety of purposes (most of which were quiet or silent activities). Even through the terrace is a completely different environment from a library, the atmosphere is very similar. It is unfortunate that the area is not very inviting to children as it is quiet without many interactive objects. While we saw children playing in the area above the terrace, they would not have been able to play ball on the terrace because of dog droppings and the fact the over the wall drops off on the other side. This means that if a ball were to go over the wall it would be unfortunately irretrievable. This reality greatly limits the activities that children can do on the terrace.

As a class I believe we need to identify the current needs of the terrace and propose solutions to the community at the upcoming workshop. There are four aspects of the terrace we are looking at: use, maintenance, promotion and events. Similar to a question for our interviews, “Who do you think should manage the place?” I would like to see a few organizations within the community take ownership of the terrace. This way it will be used for a purpose, promoted naturally, and well maintained. I would personally like to see a few restaurants and theaters put on events for the community on the terrace to keep it maintained and used.

Pictured: View from the Terrace on Via del Cortone and Alicia Muir sketching the skyline of Perugia. Taken 30.10.2017

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Lead the Way and They will follow

As the sun was setting, we headed towards the terrace with one of our friends who decided to join us for the night. Once we arrived, it was quiet and there was a man who was deep in thought. He sat there looking out at the view and occasionally looked down. Once Morgan, Alicia (our friend), and I settled down at the table we noticed that there were dog droppings around it. That really isn’t something you want to see if you brought sandwiches to eat but we later decided that we should walk around and sit on the ledge.

As I looked around I saw the man look our way a few times but he continued to sit in silence. Within the 10 minutes of arriving, the man left, perhaps our presence disrupted his private thoughts and he decided to leave. Our friend scoped out a place to sit on the ledge to draw the view, this happened to be her first time there, and as she began to sketch out the city it reminded me of the ideas the children said when we visited the school that Tuesday. They bounced ideas off each other like writing poetry, singing, and drawing at the terrace. They also said that one could put a pool or a soccer field there! Surprisingly, halfway through the observation, Morgan and I saw a small group of children playing soccer in the parking lot above the terrace, they didn’t come down to the terrace at all unless the ball rolled down the steps. There was also a lady who stopped by at the top of the terrace and quietly enjoyed the view.

Although the terrace has things for children, it seems like an area for an older audience because of the solitude one experiences while there. I know it can be different if events are held there, like the inauguration of the terrace where the children sang a song and a band played or perhaps more puppet shows by Mario so that the children are more interactive and welcomed there. But then again, a child can make a place anywhere like they do when they play in the streets or climb trees.

On another note, I noticed that the seats were arranged in a circle and that a stump was on the bench while another was presumably used for a step on the wall. Also, Alicia ended up using the stump to climb up onto the wall because she is short. I also saw that the chalkboard had graffiti on it with the statement “MEGLIO LE SIRINGHE, HAI RAGIONE SCUSA” and plenty of scratches as well. Although we are waiting for a replacement chalkboard, the children can’t use this and it isn’t appealing.

I have thought about the role of children at the terrace since the school visit, I think one of the reasons we don’t see many children there is because there isn’t anyone to lead them there.  Just one visit influenced the children from the school that a few continue to go there on their own accord. I believe the community can find ways to lead children there so that they may enjoy the space while they grow up even if it’s just one class outside.

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Polar Terrace by Talia Schaer

During two weeks of observations I found two very different uses of the terrace. One time there were two men on the hunt for drugs and the other time were groups of friends using the terrace to hang out.

On October 12th myself and Jake headed down to the terrace at 6:30pm to observe the terrace. Nothing was happening and we thought it would be another uneventful night. We were so far off.

At 6:45 two men came to the terrace. One was on his burner flip phone while the other looked around on the terrace. Both were in Nike tracksuits, and the man looking around on the terrace seemed wary of Jake and I at first. He kept moving the corners of the benches around, and Jake and I soon realized he was looking for his stash. Fast forward to 7, his friend was off the phone and helping. They moved our trash can with the painting of a dog and found what they were looking for. They both left the terrace, but on opposite stairwells, leaving Jake and I to wonder what the hell just happened.

Next week on the 18th Jake and I went back at 5pm to the terrace. We had no clue what to expect that time, more guys hunting for their stash, locals just hanging out, or maybe no one at all. But we were met with two groups of people hanging out at the terrace by the time we got there.

There was a group of two girls taking pictures, who stayed there for another fifteen minutes. The other group of two were smoking a cigarette and had a dog with them. They stayed for 23 minutes before leaving. They were all just enjoying the fresh air and mild weather of the evenings. Then at 5:30 and 5:47 a guy comes by to dump some dirt over the ledge of the terrace. Maybe he was working on a garden, but who knows for sure.

But what I learned was the duality of the terrace. There are people who go there for a nice relaxing time, and the hidden drug culture of the terrace. It is a place to meet with friends, have a drink or smoke a cigarette, or it is a place where your secret business can thrive.

(Pictured Below: The set up of furniture both weeks and how they change and the man searching.)

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Regulars

This time at the terrace was different than any other time I have been there. The use of the terrace did not appear to be first time users or tourist, but regulars. We first saw a group of guys just hanging out. What made me even more impressed was the group of children that came running down with screams of joy. They were middle school aged, playing on the tires, enjoying the adventure of the terrace. I believe that the terrace is becoming more popular and used by the local people.

Besides the people, there were other signs of use. Like usual, there were a lot of cigarettes and dog poop on the ground. Also, the chairs had been moved around.

Also, Talia came down with her parents to show them the terrace. Later on in the week I showed my parents the terrace as well. We (the students) are proud to be a part of this placemaking project and want to show others.

After doing this observation I can see how the terrace has a multifunctional purpose. It is a place for relaxation, for play, and for beauty.

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This time I’m going to write in italian, hoping it will be useful for those bloggers and users who can understand my native language! Dunque..

La mia seconda volta da osservatrice della Terrazza in via del Cortone è stata illuminante per molti aspetti. Insieme alla mia compagna di classe Lana ho notato piacevoli cambiamenti nell’approccio delle persone, nel modo di usufruire del mobilio e della Terrazza in generale e, ahimè, alcuni spiacevoli cambiamenti dal punto di vista strettamente legato alla spazio. Questo mi ha portato ad approfondire ancora di più le mie precedenti riflessioni e provare a trarne qualche modesta conclusione…

Appena arrivate abbiamo subito notato un mucchio di cartoni al di fuori dei cassonetti per la raccolta differenziata, segno di disinteresse totale nella cura del luogo. Questo mi fa pensare che la Terrazza non viene considerata come un posto vivibile ma di passaggio o di “scarico”, il che è un vero peccato. La lavagna (messa lì da non molto tra l’altro) era spaccata e con delle scritte direi eloquenti. Scritte che potrete ritrovare nel post di Lana e che suggeriscono un uso della Terrazza completamente opposto agli scopi dell’Associazione. In sostanza, suggerivano essere un buon posto per tossici, probabilmente per la sua collocazione un po’ nascosta. Non è stata una novità, altri miei compagni avevano notato il passaggio di spacciatori nella zona..ma l’ho avvertita come una sorta di provocazione..e allora rispondo prontamente: in base a ciò che ho avuto la possibilità di studiare nel corso di Place-making, non necessariamente un luogo si presta ad un uso specifico. Spesso sono le persone che con le loro attitudini e comportamenti trasformano quel luogo in ciò che vogliono. Allora ecco una possibile chiave: portare nella terrazza le persone che veramente vogliono viverla e perché no, prendersene cura. E mi riferisco veramente alla comunità di Borgo Bello, Associazione compresa, se non di Perugia centro storico in generale.

Passando ad alcuni aspetti positivi, abbiamo notato molto più passaggio non sopra, bensì nella terrazza (una bella differenza rispetto alla volta scorsa). Come ha dettagliatamente riportato Lana nel suo post ci sono stati un paio di giovani ed un gruppo di quattro amici che sembravano veramente divertirsi e rilassarsi. Complice il panorama stupendo, il clima gradevole e le novità di mobilio introdotte dai ragazzi dell’anno scorso. Anche l’altra volta sono stati utilizzati e tra l’altro non nel loro uso standard, cosa che mi fa piacevolmente pensare ad una multifunzionalità. Abbiamo cominciato ad osservare verso le 15:30, dopo circa sette minuti c’erano già sei persone nella Terrazza e sono rimaste fino a quando siamo andate via. Dunque le persone ci sono e il posto non gli è del tutto indifferente…ma di nuovo torno a ripetere che per farne uscire le potenzialità credo sia necessario mettere in secondo piano, senza tuttavia assolutamente togliere, l’aspetto promozionale e forse cominciare a spostare il focus sulle persone e su ciò che vogliono. Partire da ciò che vogliono abitualmente e poi capire cosa potrebbero volere dalla terrazza. Evidenziare che il luogo esiste credo sia stata una buona intuizione anche perché persino io che vivo il centro storico non avevo idea dell’esistenza di un così bel posto. Valorizzarlo è stato il passo successivo più azzeccato. Mi chiedo se il prossimo passo potrebbe essere pensare concretamente a rendere il posto fisicamente adatto per degli eventi. Borgo Bello così come la città intera ha un vocazione turistica notevole, specie nel periodo estivo, quando il posto potrebbe essere ancora più godibile.

Un ultima cosa che mi sento di aggiungere in base a come i passanti si guardano intorno è in realtà qualcosa che se non ricordo male è venuto fuori in classe e cioè considerare la Terrazza come parte di un “sistema”, comprensivo dei due Teatri e del circolo. Quindi sfruttarla in funzione del ruolo che assume con l’ambiente circostante.

Spero che la mia terza osservazioni porti ancora più scrupoli e idee!

 

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Terrace Watch: Eyes on the Sides

I find myself studying the terrace very carefully for any sign of change. While last time there only seemed to be positive differences, today we noted some good, some bad.  Taking a Placemaking class has allowed me to thoroughly enjoy people-watching, and the latest Terrace Watch was no exception– although I wish there were more people, and less vandalism.

When Veronica and I arrived at the terrace, it was empty. We spent a moment observing the state of the place, noting a lot of garbage in the trashcans. Unfortunately, we also noticed that the blackboard had been broken and carved with the words, “MENSA DEI TOSSICI (BELLO),” and “[MEGLIO LE SIRINGHE, HAI RAGIONE SCUSA].” They seemed to have been carved recently, as flakes from the blackboard itself still stuck to the letters. These finds, if anything, were the most disturbing of the day.

However, despite the vandalism, we were joined by many people during our observation, which made the experience much better. We sat down in the middle, perched on the ledge. Soon enough, a man appeared, and he spent his time cleaning the right side for about fifteen minutes. He weeded and rearranged furniture so that they sat properly. Another young man strolled across the terrace, past us. He sat by himself on the ledge on the far left, away from the view, but he seemed relaxed. I first worried that he might be a drug dealer, but later a woman joined him and they sat, talking.

A group of four foreigners and one Italian showed up shortly after, sitting on the bleachers and observing the view. They conversed in their native tongue (it was either Arabic or another Eastern language) and were generally having a good time. Following the experiences we heard about from other students, I worried that these too might also be drug dealers, but they seemed to be friendly people just enjoying themselves. They spent their time on the terrace chatting and resting for the majority of our hour. During the rest of the time, there weren’t very many other people.

Compared to previously, there were far more people on the terrace with us, and it was significantly livelier. While last time we mostly sat in silence–with the exception of Veronica and my conversation– there was a babble of conversation emanating from both sides of the terrace. It was comforting, if despite the vandalism, the area was being used innocently.

We speculated that perhaps the increase in presence on the terrace was due to the EuroChocolate festival, as people– both foreign and Italian– may be exploring the area more, out of curiosity. It would be very beneficial if the chocolate festival drew attention to our terrace, but it won’t last forever, so we need a more permanent solution to the promotion issue. I considered the perks of advertising for the terrace in the different bars along Corso Cavour, but as Veronica stated in class, I believe we’d need to have an event in the area before we start promoting.

People want to know that the area is fun, a good place to spend the time. I like to think that more attractions would do good, but we’ll have to see how it goes. Meanwhile, with both eyes on both sides of the terrace, we were happy to see some people enjoying themselves! There will come a day when the terrace is awash with many people, and hopefully that day is soon.

(Pictured above: the terrace as it was when we arrived, the broken and carved chalkboard, the man who was cleaning, and the groups of people who were present for most of the hour. 18/10/17)

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Elements of a successful “place”

My apologies in advance for what seems like an unorganized post, but coming up on the midterm, I have some thoughts–based off of the readings, discussions and interviews– about what might constitute the elements of a successful place.

First and foremost, I feel like I cannot move forward without giving due credit to Jane Jacobs. Specifically her concept of the necessities and benefits of a participatory process in designing a city are of great importance to our class: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” The more and more I’ve thought about this, the more important it has become. If the local populace is not involved in the project from the start all the way until the end of the implementation of the project, the needs and wants of the local populace will not be respected and utilized in a way that creates a lively and sustainable space.

Secondly, our conversation with David last week got me thinking (I know, dangerous) about how to get people to come to a place, whether it be a community garden or a terrace. During our conversation he mentioned why they decided to not put the garden closer to the terrace–the elderly people who lived above the proposed area wanted to relax, not work. In other words, there was no need for the garden in that area, or in David’s words (more or less): “A place such as a community garden cannot be successful if only designed well– it must be needed where it is put.” This idea–a place cannot be designed, it must be needed–got me thinking about what needs the terrace is currently meeting in the community. From my two observations, it is meeting the needs of those people who want a quiet place to relax and watch the city in relative peace, and maybe grab a bite to eat while doing it. It seems like much of our conversation has centered on how to increase traffic on the terrace–to get it being used more. In other words, we are trying to increase the necessity of the terrace to the local people.

Finally, on two separate occasions we have been exposed to the idea of commitment within a community: the first with David, and how to retain commitment in a community garden; the second, with Mario, who spoke of the damaging impacts of individualism. These conversations were focused mostly around management, and how to best manage the terrace. While the city definitely has their role to play, the individual has just as large a role (in my opinion). Increased individual commitment to the maintenance of the terrace, will, I think, result in a more sustainable place, as the people of the community work together to maintain and enjoy the terrace, a positive feedback loop of sorts. I think for the Salotto con vista project to be successful, part of what we,need to do is keep these things in mind: the participatory process, the creation of (or perhaps merely retention of) necessity, and a way in which to encourage and maintain individuals’ commitment to something greater than themselves.

 

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Make the Left

Like William H. Whyte states “A good plaza starts at the street corner.”. The street corner is the open door for any open space like Piazza Novembre IV, it is inviting and it allows a person to explore the next corner. Although the terrace is not a plaza it is an urban space that few enjoy. Someone mentioned earlier in the semester that the sign for the terrace is very appealing but not seen from the street unless you look in the right spot. The sign is found of the left-hand side of Borgo Bello when you walk down the steps near Sant’Ercolano. The colorful sign is a good start to attract people along with the dandelions that tease you to follow them to a hidden place.

Last week my classmate, Morgan, and I went to the Terraza del Cortone for our first observation of the semester. On the way to Borgo Bello we stopped for a light snack so we could eat it while observing the terrace and I felt it helped make us seem like friendly locals of Perugia. We arrived to the terrace a little before 11 am on Wednesday and noticed that it was lonely! However, before making it to the stairs we saw that there was a car blocking them and that alone closed off the area. We walked around a little to see what was moved or used and there were clear signs of use. For example, the benches closest to the stairs had muddy footprints left behind and the cigarette butts laid in groups in between the trashcan and the benches. Unfortunately, we did not see anyone for the whole hour we were there but we were glad to know that there were visits.

It was interesting to see in what manner we were going to observe the terrace. Where do we sit? When should we take pictures? If there are people should we interact with them? We didn’t have to address some of these questions but where should we sit? We situated ourselves on the wall and proceeded to make notes of our observations. However, due it being late morning we didn’t see anyone, perhaps they were still in school or at work.  Our next observation is scheduled at a different time and we hope to see people enjoying the terrace next time. The terrace is such a quiet place, it is a break from the busy center of Perugia, it is peaceful and I am certain many who do visit it use as an escape from their buzzing lives.

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