Not a sidewalk, not a park but a Terrace!

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Since the first discussion we made in class, one element has been depicted as one of the most important issues you have to take in consideration as a placemaker: the safety of the place. Of course, even common sense suggests to pay attention to it. You can feel unsafe because of the environment (dangerous objects, isolated places), because of the people in a certain area (pushers, drug addicts, thieves), because of the traffic (too many cars passing on a street) etc. These aspects could be potentially dangerous for everyone but they represent a real problem for someone in particular: our children. Children are the weakest part of the society and the ones who we should take care of the most. How did architects and planners try to solve this problem in the past?

People started to think that one of the best way to protect their children from “the moral and physical toll taken of our youth by the streets” (also known as “the gutter” situation) was to move them from the old streets to parks. Every city started to build parks as a solution to the safety problem. That choice led to an unexpected result: what should have been the safest place in the city was instead the centre of almost every dangerous activity such as extortions perpetrated by bullies, drug dealing and also parks started to be frequented by socially dangerous people like kidnappers and/or rapists due to the fact that a lot of children were there. Also the same children if they wanted to do anything of “antisocial” preferred to go to parks because, let’s say that, there were no eyes on the street. Anyway, let’s clarify first one thing: parks are changed; old parks have been done really badly compared to the new ones.

Even if the situation described by Mrs. Jacob refers to mid 60’s, this general tendency to consider streets unsafe if compared to parks stands still. We should analyse a bit deeper the aspect of surveillance: usually people prefer to hire someone to control children instead of understanding that this role/function should belong to citizens even if they have no ties to each other; we should take care of everyone, that’s the main goal of the community, these are the eyes on the city. Also a lot of activities in parks don’t allow children to be free or to use their endless fantasy to create new games and new rules (streets instead, seem to fit this task really well). And more frightening, a lot of outdoor installations are private and so public spaces are becoming private in a certain way.

If we think about that, children think that sidewalks are way more interesting than playground and the same is thought by adults but, here is the non-sense, people still think that parks are the answer to the safety and to the entertainment. Thankfully, today’s experts are paying more attention to this situation and are building better structures that best fit those needs.

The real problem, in my opinion, is not what’s safer but the fact that communities must realize the role they play in the game. People should understand the importance of being together and self responsible, of being part of something bigger in a society that promotes more the individual sphere rather than the collective one. This have to be achieved through a dual process: creating community knowledge and perception, and rebuilding consciously the sidewalks instead of discouraging its reappropriation.

A good way to make it happen is involving citizen into the participatory process which is functional for creating shared views, common goals, and so stronger communities. The best ideas are the ones that come from the users; for example, last Thursday we went to the elementary school “Borgo XX Giugno” whose children took part in the “Kaki Tree Project” writing a great poem about the meaning of the project (a funny thing: the teacher asked them “why did they choose children in your opinion?” one answered “because children are smart, adults make war not children!”). Children are smart, deep that can give a lot of solutions to problems; we should think about them while rebuilding spaces, they deserve to have stimulating places to grow in, to understand the importance of the social dimension (they are the citizens of the future!). We should teach them to live their sidewalks by thinking ourselves about how sidewalks can be interesting, fun and safe.

In conclusion there is another good solution to make everyone happy and safe: if people can’t choose between sidewalks and parks, what about a terrace? :)

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