Collaboration of City Professionals and the Locals by Morgan Nash

With so many philosophies and theories on city planning, it can be hard to determine the best method for creating a great city. Anirban Adhya analyzed the work of Jane Jacobs in Jane Jacobs and the Theory of Placemaking in Debates of Sustainable Urbanism. Adhya notes a city is “a system of organized complexity” with the capability of providing something for everyone, which can only be achieved if a place is created by everyone. Through information from locals and city planners alike a place can be created that contains both function and form. The benefits of involving the locals within an area is that they are the people who, in the end, will be using the space. The professionals on the other hand have the large view of how to incorporate the local’s wishes into the designated space. By working together these two groups of stakeholders can create better usable public spaces.

When city planners look to improve or create a new public area they must first learn about the needs/wants of the community. One way to determine these needs is through diligent physical observation. Though many processes achieve this goal, one common method is to simply watch an area for a certain amount of time while recording the activities that take place there.

With this in mind my classmate and I were tasked with observing various spaces within Piazza IV Novembre in Perugia’s city center. By observing places such as the steps, alleyways and fences, we learned more about the purpose and function of the main square of Perugia. I was fascinated to learn about the variety of reasons why people entered and lingered in the piazza. For example, meeting with friends, eating food from the nearby cafes, and lounging around on the fringe were popular options among the locals. By keeping an open line of communication between locals and city planners, purposefully places can be created.

 

Pictured: Observation of daily activities in Piazza IV Novembre, Perugia. Taken 26.09.2017

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Where Idealism Meets Action

This past Sunday my classmates and I participated in one of the the most important aspects of placemaking: work. So often in many of the planning circles I’ve been involved in, it is too often the case that we never move out of the idealism, and into the realization of our ideals. It is a recognition of, and implementation of, the necessary work that idealism implies that ultimately pushes a project forward and ensures its longevity.

The work we did on Sunday at the Salotto con Visto was a great example of this, as it was a realization of the ideals I–and the people I was working with– shared. As I was working I recalled one of the Jane Jacob’s quotes we heard on the first day: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” While the people working with us by no means represented all the people of the city, it certainly represented a good amount of them, and in doing so reinforced the concept that the Salotto con Visto is a project designed by community members and for community members, and ultimately maintained by community members.

I saw the work we did on Sunday as an embodiment of Anirban Adhya’s Placemaking  definition: the ways in which all human beings transform the places in which they live through creative processes. Everyone involved on Sunday left their own personal touches on Salotto con Visto, making it a little bit their own, and leaving part of them in the place they had worked on. I know personally that I will be going back to check on the succulents that I planted, and to see how the spray paint is or is not holding up on the sidewalks. My hope is that the spray paint is worn away by the shoes of friendly visitors to this living room, and that the succulents are cared for and utilized by those same people.

Good work in common purpose, then, creates a double-blessing of sorts. Not only do you get the tangible results of a physical change, but you also reinforce the values of a community and create a common accountability to continue to cherish and maintain what you have already worked for.

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Piazza Novembre

Things have been busy the past week in the placemaking program. The last class-time was divided in two, with the first half focusing on Anirban Adhya’s chapter “Jane Jacobs and the Theory of Placemaking in Debates of Sustainable Urbanism”  from her book The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs, and the second half pertained to an ethnographic observation of the Piazza Novembre. Last Sunday was the fall clean-up/potluck in borgo bello, which I unfortunately was not able to attend, but looked to be highly successful.

As we discussed in class on Tuesday, Adhya’s argument focused on the validity of Jane Jacobs work and dissected her process for backing her presentation. As I wrote last week, I found Jacobs work to be easily agreeable but vague when it came to grey-area topics. Jacobs relied on empirical data, but I felt that her work lacked quantitative and concrete data. After reading Adhya’s piece, I still was not sold and thought that Jacobs researched needed to be backed by more reputable sources, however my opinion was swayed as we progressed in our discussion in class. I realized that Jacobs geared her argument with an appeal to ethos and pathos in a field that, at the time, was solely focused on the logos of city planning. Jacobs intended to present the most pragmatic approaches to city planning that went beyond the mere economic and political interests. She aligned herself very much with the post-modernist movement of the time and deconstructed the ideals of “cost-driven” incentives, and rather presented a case for accounting all aspects of sociological interaction in city planning. Her appeals were directed specifically towards emotions and community building.

The rest of class on Tuesday was centered on observing the types of interactions going on in the Piazza Novembre. It was an interesting activity that gave a new perspective as to how Perugia’s most popular space functions. Slowing down and observing the types of people that make up the space offers a unique insight as to how other spaces could replicate the same interactions. Most people walked in pairs and actually only used the piazza as a mechanism to get across town. Some people stopped to take pictures of the architecture, others chatted with friends on the steps of the cathedral, but most walked along the via de priori. Many people took advantage of the large, open air space and meandered around the square, and significant number of people took to the shops lining the outside.

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More than “a look at” Piazza IV Novembre

We did something really original last time we join Placemaking class, something I consider even “out of the box”. Working in pairs, we had to observe Piazza IV Novembre from different points of view and notice certain things in particular, such us which place we chose to exanimate, how many people were passing by, how did they get to that place, who were they, what they were doing at moment…and so on. The most us were sitting in the stairs of Palazzo dei Priori. Time-limit: just five minutes, anyway it was quite easy to handle. And it’s really impressive how many details you can get if you choose to be an observer as if you were a sort of magnifying glass, no matter how much time you have or, on the contrary, how long it takes to do that.

If you pay attention on details, for instance, you can understand why mothers are not so willing to let their children play and have fun in what is probably regarded as the core of Perugia town’s centre. Maybe they feel a little uncomfortable letting kids run, while cars are coming and going from the streets. Maybe they prefer a safer area or maybe something more similar to a playground. Here again the safe issue, something a placemaker usually chooses to work on. In the meantime you discover another element which is crucial: the time of the day. A place tend to change completely every passing hour. Our little experiment was taken at 17:45 more or less, which was good for us because that is usually the moment when the town-centre is crowded (so we were more challenged). Students are coming back home from university, some shop owners are getting ready to leave, some friends are just hanging out, tourists are already looking for some restaurants to have dinner… So what if the observation was taken during midday or at 15.00? How many things would change? And focusing on people perception: would the place look different? Sure it would, but actually you don’t really think about it. More, while I was watching people moving around, a thing I red from Jacob’s writing came to my mind: the activity generated by people draw the attention of other people. Sometimes we think we can find more people in a big city like Rome or NY just because of “demographic reasons” but let’s think about how many passers-by you can count in a small town like Perugia because of other reasons, less technical. The truth is that tourists get curious to hunt down new places to visit because they see other tourists going there. So this is something I noticed during the experiment.

To sum up, I believe this kind of activities point out what we usually take for granted or consider meaningless. Instead I feel like saying that is exactly what our “task” is about:get whatever you can, studying it and then try to improve it if necessary. At least this is basically what I think.

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Palazzo dei Priori, our main point of view

 

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Place-People Watching

Piazza Novembre is a main passage way to all parts of Perugia’s city center; so it is a perfect place to do observations. This area always has something going on at any time of day. The constant change of action in the Piazza is what makes it a great place. The first area I observed in the Piazza was the steps of Sala de Notari. People come to these steps for many reasons. People were eating, smoking, talking with friends, taking pictures and using their phones. Most people were in small groups or by themselves. These steps are very active because they are in a good location, have a nice view of the fountain, are welcoming to all, and a perfect place to do people watching!

Another area I observed was the fountain. I would consider this to be the focal point of the piazza. Most people I observed around the fountain were just passing by. Generally the only people who stopped to look at it were tourists. Large groups of tourists would stop and take pictures. The fountain is beautiful, but you can’t sit anywhere around it or drink the water from it. Even though you can’t get much use out of it, it attracts people to the piazza.

I have noticed that Piazza Novembre is very lively at the night time.  Young adults and teenagers (mostly) sit on the steps in large groups. Sometimes there is a performance or music being played. I have never been there at night and saw no one there. I like the atmosphere at nighttime, which is why it is my favorite time to be there. The sound of water or music in the background, and the chatter of people keep me coming back.

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An Exercise in People Watching by Talia Schaer

Something we engage in every day whether we recognize it or not, is people watching. We naturally observe who is around us, if we recognize them, do we like their clothes, and what they are doing. For an hour this week we were set out to people watch in the piazza and take field notes.

Even though I have only been here for a little over a month, these steps and people seem familiar now. There are some people I see every day, and noticed them immediately. And others in the class also recognized them as someone we almost knew personally. There is the man with two dogs I see all the time, and have in turn constructed my own idea of who he is.

Then there are the people I have never seen before sitting on the steps. Each of them drawn to that place by their own reasons. Some are alone, some are in pairs, and some are in groups. Each of them a separate in a collective of people who I watch without them realizing. Trying to understand why they are there in the piazza, the relationship to the person they are with, and just overall being a fly on the wall.

Something you notice immediately in the piazza is that you can tell who is a local and who is not. There are the groups of tourists bunched over by the fountain being talked to by a guide explaining the significance of the piazza and taking pictures left and right. Then there are the Italians from Perugia who are sitting and chatting with friends on the steps or maybe getting a coffee at one of the cafes. There are the other students from abroad that go to the school for foreigners. Each of these people exist in this small ecosystem and embrace the common area of the piazza.

(Pictured: A group of tourists next to the fountain being talked to by a guide and two women having a photo shoot in the piazza.)

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What’s Happening in Piazza IV Novembre? by Lana Valente

Sometimes, I forget how fun people watching actually is.

How often do you observe what other people do, and how they interact with their environment? I suppose depending on your occupation, the answer may vary. I can’t say that I frequently study the activities of other people, but this Tuesday in class, I dedicated myself fully to people watching for the first time. I never considered how people watching would influence placemaking, but after observing, I understand completely. How else can you expect to witness how people interact with their environment? Depending on if their reactions are positive or negative, you can tell a lot about a person, or a place.

Almost anything can influence a public space to make it successful or unpopular, whether it’s demographics or things to do. While I was people watching today, I noticed a trend of similar behavior throughout Piazza IV Novembre. Within the time span of 5:50 to 6:20, most people were sitting, walking, talking (in pairs of two, more often than not), and using their phones. Alongside other activities (shopping, smoking, taking pictures, eating), these were by far the most common. To me, this makes the piazza a very social place, because it’s an area where people come to simply exist.

Piazza IV Novembre is ideal. With places to sit, people and things to see (as well as food to eat), it makes this public space very successful without striving to provide entertainment. The people entertain themselves, which reminds me of our discussion in class: as placemakers/planners, do we have to provide for the people, or help them to enhance what they already have? After my experience today, I’ve come to believe it’s a little bit of each. People are capable of building something good on their own; they just must be motivated to do so.

(Pictured: People out and about in the piazza, a car driving through, friends taking notes, and my own notes. Finds from 26/9/17.)

 

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Real Eyes Realize

When I thought of sidewalks I thought of the empty tan ones back in Charlotte, there wasn’t much going on there unless you were in uptown, but after reading the Jane Jacobs reading, my thoughts have changed. It wasn’t like I hadn’t noticed them before, I just hadn’t put a value to them. The sidewalks at home are either plain, stained with gum, or decorated with fallen leaves but now, in Perugia, they are patterned with dark stone and generally much cleaner. These sidewalks are not the same, in fact they contrast so much that I have noticed that I enjoy walking in Perugia much more. These sidewalks are where people can walk knowing it’s a place to socialize and a path for the next move. I have also noticed that, in Perugia, one can visit nearby shops and run into schoolmates on the way during the day while at night one might see the same group of friends sitting at the tables of the cafes or bars out on the same sidewalks. But what makes these sidewalks much more enjoyable than the ones at home?

Jacobs states that a sidewalk is safe when there is a “clear demarcation between what is a public space and a private space”. In Piazza Novembre, everything is open to the public, nothing seems off-limits, and everyone sits anywhere be it on the steps or at the tables. There are always familiar faces among the streets. For example, those who work at the Dempsey’s bar know my friends and I and they look out for us when we enter on the weekends or even if we see them throughout the day. However, the same cannot be said for some streets in Borgo Bello. A couple days ago I took my friend to Salotto con Vista, at night, and she began to wonder where we were headed (and was losing trust in me) and in turn I would respond “just a bit more”. Once we arrived at the overlook, she was amazed. The distant view of an active Perugia at night was, and is, stunning. Unfortunately, the walk there was quiet and lonely, with only a few people occupying the calm sidewalks. On the other hand, walking through here reminded me of the sidewalks at home. They are less occupied and calm but my sidewalks don’t generally lead to anywhere within walking distance and much less anything that is exciting and new.

Now, how can we change the walk to Salotto con Vista? Again, Piazza Novembre, has eyes on the street or familiar faces that make a sidewalk more comfortable to stroll at any given time of the day. Or even the Mezza Notte Bianco hosted by Borgo Bello, the streets were inviting and filled, does this mean the neighborhood must do more activities to gain attention or can it be equally as successful if its hidden gems were made known as public spaces like Jacobs mentions?

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Picture taken at Salotto con Visto, September 21, 2017

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Effect of “Eyes on the Street” by Morgan Nash

In Jane Jacob’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities she calls attention to various aspects of cities and its effects on the community. One of the key factors of a city is its use of walkways and sidewalks. There is a strong correlation between the safety of a neighborhood and the use of its streets.

In the city center of Perugia, from personal experience I feel most secure in areas that are taken care of and filled with people. Corso Vannucci (the main street of the city) is sprawling with people at almost all times of day. This is the result of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars that are open both early in the morning and late at night. I have never felt unsafe on Corso Vannucci, even at 3 am, because there are still young people walking around from bar to bar.

I am of a similar mind as Jacobs when she says that the safety of a city depends on the presence of eyes on the streets. Similar to Corso Vannucci, in Borgo Bello, the community is working on increasing the number of eyes on the street by bringing more vendors and consumers to the area. Also, when festivals and other events are held in Borgo Bello, Perugians learn about the neighborhood and its key features and are more likely to return. Corso Cavour (the main street in Borgo Bello) is increasing in popularity through events like Mezzanotte Bianco and famous gelaterie like Lick. Nowadays Corso Cavour rarely sees crime, vandalism and the like as the street is constantly buzzing with social activity.

The next task of the community is to bring those social activities to less frequented places in Borgo Bello (like the Salotto con vista and OrtoBello). There are many beautiful and unique places along and through the alleyways of Borgo Bello that are not visited as often as Corso Cavour. Knowledge of these hidden gems would not only increase the neighborhood’s popularity but also increase the number and frequency of eyes on the side streets.

 

Pictured: View from Salotto con vista found on a side street of Borgo Bello. Taken 12.09.2017

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Jane Jacobs Uses of Sidewalks

During the last class we discussed the elements of Jane Jacobs’ excerpt “The uses of sidewalks: safety”, from her book THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES. The chapter highlights the key aspects to having successful sidewalks, ranging from the importance of street safety to the development of sidewalks as a focal point for residents and strangers alike.

Personally, I felt that the arguments Jacobs presented were utilized to draw attention to overlooked aspects of city planning and the norms in societal interaction in general. Many of the cases she pushed were difficult to dispute, and some were almost intuitive. For example, she favors the idea that “the sight of people attracts other people” (Jacobs, 37). Within the contexts of street safety, she utilizes this to assure that more eyes on the street produces more safety in the area. This may unexcitable obvious either because of the societal differences from early 1960’s and now, where American values in public space may have shifted over the years, or she was directing her writing to building companies and city planners who fixated on wealth and cost efficiency rather than fostering thriving communities.

However, I also felt that some of the points Jacobs argued were presented as replicable facts in all societies that may only actually be true for some. For example, Jacobs makes the case that spreading cities out and dispersing the population does not increase street safety, yet we could unanimously agree that rural areas defy this definition during class last week. Similarly, the metrics for how we define safe streets play a large part of her argument. She contrasts LA and NYC in this same argument and asserts that NYC has a lower violent crime rate. When considering drug related and petty theft crime, the measure of street safety could drastically shift.

Most importantly, I felt as though Jacobs provided arguments that were easy to agree with but difficult to manifest. This may be why I felt as though her arguments were somewhat intuitive; it is easy to think of ‘what-if’ situations but harder to put them into motion. I do agree with almost all of Jacobs statements about public safety and successful places, however the practicality in developing such situations has shown to be difficult. For example, when arguing for street surveillance, Jacobs presents the statement, “the basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public spaces sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district…” (Jacobs, 36). Such arguments can be picked apart when it becomes apparent that this is not economically suitable nor ideal for residents in all neighborhoods. Some suburban neighborhoods do not fit this mold and violate Jacobs claim against delocalized population, yet retain comparable street safety. This is not to say that Jane Jacobs is wrong in her thoughts, I simply feel that there are more underlying aspects to safe and successful streets that we see in this chapter alone.

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