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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