Just this morning, I was listening to my favorite design-focused podcast, 99% Invisible, hosted by renowned journalist, Roman Mars. Today’s episode was on the concept of informal urbanism, and I immediately shared it with JP because the process itself relates to what we are doing as placemakers. Mars interviews Gordon Douglas, the author of “The Help-Yourself City,” and presents informal urbanism as an intermediary between formal city planning and more rogue guerilla urbanism. The two discuss the Pavements to Parks program based in San Francisco, and specifically how local businesses reclaim street space for use in their businesses, but with clear distinctions for who may use the space.
This example brings to mind Piazza Domenico Lupattelli on Corso Garibaldi, and how nearby restaurants use this space for outdoor seating. The piazza itself is a multi-functional space, and is also where neighborhood events are hosted. While the restaurant has claimed part of the space as their own, the rest of the piazza is open to the neighborhood. Mars and Douglas concede that a challenge facing the various fields of informal urbanism, placemaking, and urban planning is that they must all find the balance between what is visibly private or public space.
As today’s reading notes, the most notable feature of a plaza is that it attracts people and encourage interactions. Like Mars features in the podcast interview, the objectives of the Street Life Project mirror the goals of San Francisco’s Pavements to Parks program. Both identify the street as the key location for a piazza, as they have the most potential for facilitating person-to-person interactions. And so, it becomes apparent that there is not always an issue of creating new spaces, but rather improving what you already have. When we decide to intervene and improve our surroundings, it is important to be mindful of the people and how they use/view the space.