Placemaking through People Watching

This week our assignment was to watch the Piazza and see how people used/navigated through the space. I decided to sit on the steps of the Duomo, it offered a clear viewing point and helped me blend in so as to not look suspicious. I mapped the area early Sunday evening and what I found was quite interesting.

I quickly discovered that the Piazza has quite a few unspoken rules. The green arrows indicate traffic flow through the circle. People navigate the Piazza by following the perimeter, and after a quick glance if becomes obvious that space closer to the fountain becomes more taboo to stand in. There is an exception for taking pictures, but no one seemed to sit at the actually fountain. Most people avoided the large pockets indicated in blue on the map. They preferred to sit on either the steps of the Notary of of Duomo. I did not realize how abnormal this was until when a few individuals (mainly elderly people/ shaded in squares and triangles) stopped in front of the fountain. It felt wrong to me. I remember the way I felt standing next to the fountain on the first day, being so close it seemed to give off a sign of being a tourist. I found it strange at how powerful this feeling was though, that only after spending a short amount of time in the city that I was able to understand an innate rule of the local people.

The pocket indicated on the steps of Duomo is the stairway leading into the church. I found it interesting that regardless of how crowded the steps were, many people chose to stand rather than occupy the entry way. It was not until after the church was closed that people moved into sitting in that area. A courtesy like this would be hard to come by in America. Most Americans will find a space and monopolize on it while they can, whereas Italians seem to view public areas as more communal and temporary. To them, the Piazza is a space that anyone can use at anytime, rather than how Americans view their space as a private sector in the a public setting. It was also fascinating to notice how many older people were up walking or standing while many younger people (empty triangles and squares) sat on the steps or off to the side of the Piazza.

Overall, I think doing this assignment was an excellent practice for future placemaking projects. IT is good to be able to understand a space and how people will naturally use. This is dependent on the architecture and the public mindset. However, I don’t think that my findings are extremely accurate. I observed a 10 minute window in the early evening on a weekend. I’m sure the Piazza would operate very differently on a Saturday night or a Wednesday morning. I kept remembering how Ray & Viviana told us this during our Borog Sant’Angelo snoop about. You have to try and understand the whole picture and not just assume based one encounter. This will be useful to remember as we begin to work in the park of Borgo Sant’Angelo.

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