Comparing Spaces

I could not find my place-making map, so this is my rough sketch!

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On Wednesday, October 9th around 3 o’clock, I sat in Piazza IV Novembre and observed the activity of the shops and the people to see how it related to the concepts of place-making that we have been learning in class so far. Last week we learned that a busy street makes a plaza. After doing our assignment on people-watching in Piazza IV Novembre I now know how true that is. Most of the movement of traffic on the streets was walking towards the piazza asserting it’s place as the city center. The busiest spaces within this area were the streets, however. People gathered on the sides at cafes or stopped at the outdoor seating at restaurants, and traffic even slowed down at the beginning of the piazza near the clothing store where people were window shopping. This supports the place-making theory that busy streets attract people which in turn, creates busy Plaza’s. The next busy section of the piazza where the stairs, which act informal seating that allows people to spend time and gather together in the square. People were either there alone or in groups. Some people were on the phone or others were having a smoke and talking. A few young girls were eating gelato and looking off into the street together. These were the same activities I saw occurring on the stairs opposite to the one on the main cathedral. In one of Jacob’s writings, she said that a place must promote social interaction. Although I did not see strangers interacting there were several groups on the stairs on sitting at restaurants and cafes that were there to socialize and the space provided them with a place to do it. Lastly, there were areas in the piazza with only a small amount of people. Of course, like any major city, we have learned that people stop in the middle of traffic and have a conversation. This is still true for Perugia, there was a large group of people stopped at the mouth of Corso Vanucci flooding into Perugia. Likewise, there were some people who were along sitting on the side of the fountain which is usually reserved for the overflow when the steps or too crowded or as a point for people to meet up and walk together to their next destination. There were also small clusters of two-three people either taking pictures or wandering around in the middle of the square which can be found no matter what time of day it is. These less popular areas are important because it shows that the piazza brings people to space not even just for its shops or its stairs but for the whole atmosphere as well. 

This weekend I went to Foligno and decided to people watch on their main square, Piazza Repubblica to see how their smaller, lesser-known city, compares to Perugia. This was done on Sunday at noon so the city was already less busy, and fewer shops were open. The only places that there were a lot of people were at the major cafe in the square and at the restaurant on the side road that leads to the square. It was as if people were latching to the activity of eating food together while they were there. The next busiest section was the stairs that led to the Catherdral in the square. There, people smoked together, chatted, or sat alone. There were also many people walking through and looking around to see the piazza and move on. This felt completely different from Piazza IV Novembre because there was not a lot going on the square so people did not stay and gather in the square and the people who did stay in the square left after a short time. I believe that this relates to the busy street argument from before. Because there were not a lot of stores open at this time of the day, there was much less to do, which kept people from staying and spending time in the piazza. Overall, the elements of place-making such as having lots of food options and crowded seating to promote the interaction needed for a good place are exhibited in the differences between the center square in Foligno verses Perugia. 

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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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People Watching

My roommate and I got our usual gelato and headed for the steps. It was Monday night and the air had a nip to it. As we approached the steps I noticed that it was very quiet, maybe because to was a Monday night maybe because it was fairly cold compared to previous nights. We picked a spot high up on the stairs.

As we sat an ate our gelato an Italian man and woman sat a healthy distance infant of us. We were trying to figure out their relation to each other. They were sitting very close. I noticed that the woman did not have a ring on her left hand so they most likely were not married. Their conversation seemed to be surface level. Neither laughed or seemed to enjoy the others company. But their body language was very close proximity to each other.

It was interesting to see this pair give off contradicting signals that neither confirmed nor denied if they were together or not. It is hard to tell one’s relationship status here because everyone is much more personable than back int the states. A perfect example is how people great each other with two kisses to the cheek. It is a much more personable way to greet each other than in the states.

I think this relates to peacemaking because how the people interact with each other creates the feel for the city. For example by sitting on the steps for a few minutes I saw that people interact in a very close proximity and that does not mean they are dating etc. The culture of the city is shaped by the people that it is made up of.

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Place and People Watching – Kim Hernandez

This Sunday I sat on the steps of the church and observed the activity of the piazza at various points of the day. I sat on the steps at noon, and watched as tours circled around the fountains. I returned in the late afternoon, and saw Italian youths/preteens meet up with their friends. I ended the night people-watching in the piazza around 11 PM, and noticed that there were hardly any people out compared to how many there were in the morning. 

Small 2 minute time-lapse of the piazza.

During the daytime, there were consistent trends of how people of different age groups use the space. Older people stick to the periphery, unless they are part of tours around the city and will spread out around the piazza. Younger people tend to have a presence around the entire piazza, with groups congregating on the steps or seated outside cafes. These general traffic patterns hold true for their respective age groups, with preteens usually passing through, and older groups of people lingering for more time in the piazza. 

Since I sat out on a Sunday, Corso Vannucci was more crowded than it usually is, seeing as the national museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. More people were out during the daytime when it was sunnier, and they usually stayed on Corso Vannucci in front of the shops and restaurants there. At night, there were fewer people out, probably because it is the chilliest part of the day. 

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Glimpses Into the Lives of Others

On one of the warmer evenings of recent days, the sky was bright blue with barely any clouds in the sky. The temperature was sitting roughly around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was easy to pick out those individuals who were not originally from this region, who were maybe more acclimated to lower temperatures. These individuals had on a light sweater at most, whereas there were others with hefty jackets on, shivering from the wind.

Needless to say, sitting out in the Piazza IV Novembre on an October evening at 5:45, in the middle of the week, there was an interesting mix of people out and about. I saw students sitting on the steps, some enjoying cold gelato, and some not so much. The people walking around clearly lived in the area. Whether or not they were originally born here was another question. This brought to mind the notion of strangers and residents that Jane Jacobs has written about. What happens when strangers become residents? The coexistence between the two is vital for a city to be successful, and in an open, central place such as Piazza IV Novembre, it is easy to see these two entities working together.

There wasn’t as much of a separation between foreign students and local residents as I had assumed there would be. Shopkeepers and baristas were chatting amicably with people walking by, and there were less tourists clogging up the main walkway, making it easy for people to go about their business.

I saw people traversing the same routes that I take every day, stopping into the same bars, sitting on the same steps. This Piazza has the characteristics of what make a space, a place, good. Although the outskirts are privatized, the steps are open to all, and people do gather there. That is something that I noticed on my first night here. It becomes a mosh-posh of people from all over, coming together over food and drink. I see the signs of a successful city in Perugia, and I see that the role that tourists play does not overpower the role that residents play, and I appreciate that.

I think if the weather had been warmer, more people would have been crowding the Piazza, but as temperatures drop, it will be interesting to see how the city adapts, where individuals decide to gather, and which place calls people in.

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People Watching and the Fountain – By Nicole Flohr

I completed the people watching activity a little after 6:00 pm on Friday October 4th. As many people leisurely do, I sat on the steps and watched the fountain and the people around it. Within the five minutes I was observing,  I watched three main groups:

  • The first group I watched was a family playing around the fountain. There was a mom with a dog, a grandma (I’m assuming) with a stroller, and three children. The children ran around the fountain for a bit, and then the group left.
  • The second group of people I noticed was three teen-aged girls who seemed to be waiting for more people. They stood and talked to each other for the entire five minutes.
  • The third group was an older couple who stopped to take a selfie in front of the fountain before continuing their walk around the piazza.

Piazza

My view from the steps.

Each group interacted with the fountain differently. The family, especially the children, used the fountain almost like a playground by running around it’s circular base. The girls used the fountain as a meeting place, which is how many Umbra students use it. Finally, the couple reacted to the fountain as many tourists do and took a picture in front of it.

There were many people in the piazza that evening, which made me think about how some people fail to interact with the fountain. The majority of people walked right past it without evening glancing at it. This observation reminded me of JP’s comment about “disturbing complacency” since locals may take the fountain for granted.

The final thing I observed was the flow of people. There was a steady stream coming from Corso Vannucci to the steps and another crossing from Via Maesta delle Volte to Corso Vannucci. Where the two flows intersected many people were standing and talking. Even without streets in the piazza, there was still a “street corner” as described in our readings.

Overall, the people watching exercise highlighted how people utilize Piazza IV Novembre, specifically how they interact (or fail to interact) with the fountain.

People Watching

My notes taken during the people watching exercise.

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Overcoming Language Barriers

My notes from people watching

Language barriers are not as ominous as I previously thought. At least that’s what I realized from the people-watching exercise. For five minutes at 6 pm on a cool, partly-cloudy Friday, I sat on the stair of the cathedral and specifically focused on Via Maestà delle Volte, the road leading up to Umbra Institute. Unlike the other side of the fountain that seems to be what Whyte would consider a “real” street corner with blobs of people and tour groups congregating, this side was considerably less crowded. Most people traveled in pairs or by themselves; that people were continuously moving characterized this section of the piazza as a functional flow space where people focus on completing their itineraries rather than a place space where people feel connected to one another. 

Watching these pedestrians made me realize how well we can understand people just from noticing their actions. I could easily distinguish the confident navigators from a confused meandering tourist by their brisk pace and linear paths. Watching the people as if I was a third person-omniscient narrator observing a novel unfold, I felt connected to them by our shared humanity, even though I know that most of the characters themselves notice the people they pass. 

This observation strategy would have come in handy for an incident that happened when I visited the Church of San Domenico. Its massive arches reminded me of the Renaissance architect Brunelleschi who used a series of ideal proportions to construct space that reflects the place’s sacred purpose. While wandering through the aisles, admittedly looking like the confused tourist I had previously observed, I was approached by an elderly woman who said something to me in Italian–I didn’t understand past “Chiesa.” Then another man started pointing me toward the door, and I vaguely understood that I was supposed to leave because the church was closing. Oops. 

Spaces can facilitate interconnectivity between people through architecture that guides their movement through a church or piazza, but most important is providing ways for people to know how to experience the place to its fullest potential, while also respecting its norms. This shared knowledge of the place can be facilitated through meaningful human interaction with the place. Otherwise, people may just walk quickly through or accidentally try to stay past closing time.

We can think about helping people ways of connecting people when placemaking at the park by asking questions: Are we creating visible signs that clearly state the rules in a language understood by those who use the park? What are the implicit means of communication? For example, as David noted, are we considering the park’s morphology? How do people recognize they are part of a community place even if they don’t speak the language or are visitors who don’t live specifically in the Corso Garibaldi neighborhood? 

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Where Podcasting and Placemaking Intersect – Kim Hernandez

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.

This is my favorite episode of 99% Invisible, as it is relatable to those of us who come from suburban backgrounds. Their newer episodes are available on other streaming platforms, and I highly recommend checking them out!

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.

The view from Piazza Domenico Lupattelli on an early stormy morning.
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Numb

By: J.P. Dionne

This past Sunday morning, all of us Placemakers gathered to do a park clean up. It was my first time volunteering in Perugia so it felt good to finally give back to a community that I now call home. However, this warm fuzzy feeling did not last long.

One of the first things my team found in our clean up process was a syringe. My first response wasn’t surprise, it was more a passive; unfeeling. The same response was a elicited when we found the second one. And then the third. And then the fourth. After finding at least 12 different syringes I realized I was still not phased by what I was finding. I knew before coming here that Perugia was no stranger to drug-related issues, and I figured working in a park I would encounter some of these issues head-on. I didn’t realize until afterward just how much of a problem my reaction really was. Everyone else seemed to have the same composed reaction. It was shrugged off, someone casually calling out “I found more needles” became less and less scary. I realized what I was feeling, what we all were feeling, was complacency.

We all left feeling good. We helped clean up the park quite a bit so why shouldn’t we have enjoyed our work. But as we were leaving all my eyes could find were more pieces of litter and caps for syringes. In all this I kept asking myself: Where were the police officers to mitigate this kind of activity? Where were the local politicians who should be working to help people facing addiction?

Our readings this week focused on analyzing the behavior of how people occupy and use space in order to make it a place. The readings discussed empty unused plazas and employing card sorting as methods to develop ideas. And renovations of city space are incredibly important, but this park is not any ordinary city space. It has become a drug den because it lies off the beaten path, found on the fringes of a neighbor not frequented by tourists or well supervised. The eyes on this street seem to belong to those a someone fast asleep. It was wonderful that we engaged directly: spoke with community members about what they want, studied who exactly uses the park, etc. But it left me feeling upset. We are the ones coming in to fix this area, to revitalize it into an attractive green setting. Once this is done more people will come and the drug issues should diminish on their own time. But I felt that in our short time we as Placemakers were becoming numb to the drug crisis. It became normal; something that can easily be ignored. And once something reaches this point in the public eye it becomes even harder to solve.

I recommend that us Placemakers take some time to understand how drugs are effecting the community. Drugs are playing a huge role in day-to-day life, yet they are something we typically ignore in our discussions of barriers to making a place. By doing so we can keep in mind that drugs are a presented challenge. We cannot forget and we cannot become complacent. After all, a park with a view like the one below is absolutely a park worth saving.

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Park Clean-Up

This past Sunday was the first workshop/activity that the class participated in with members of the community. We met at 10am, split up into pairs and tackled different parts of the park. With the various levels of the park, my group partner and I found that most of the trash that we were attempting to collect was located on steep hills or hidden in bushes. There were many instances when I started sliding down the dirt hill trying to grab a beer bottle or a cigarette pack.

I also noticed that the parking lot harbored a massive amount of trash. I wondered if maybe a first step in maintaining the cleanliness of the park would be to establish permanent trash cans all throughout the park. It could potentially decrease the amount of litter significantly.

If an area is more clean, more aesthetically pleasing, more community members will assemble there. After the potluck, we were able to talk with some of the current community members about some of the activities and events they hold at the park too. I was particularly interested in the Thursday night dinners that would be hosted there during the summer. Nothing brings people together like food does.

Finally, an unfortunate component of the day was the ever-present worry about finding a syringe or a needle. While we all know that drugs are an issue in any city, it can be discouraging to know that public community areas harbor these activities. I hope that this topic can be addressed in a rehabilitative and careful way moving forward.

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