The public arena is arguably one of the most important parts of society. Public spaces allow strangers, casual acquaintances, and long time friends to come together and interact. If designed properly, they will encourage good interactions that facilitate discussion and growth. If poorly planned, they can harbor criminal activity and create a hostile environment.
In the TV show Girlmore Girls, the town square is the heart of the fictional city of Stars Hollow. I watched the whole series again in preparation for the release of the reunion season. What I noticed is the town square in the show functioned like the town squares of early American cities before cars took over and pushed everyone into the suburbs. What is so unique about the town square in Stars Hollow is that it brought the community together, it was the hub of spontaneous meetings, was surrounded by shops, restaurants and residential units, and was designed for pedestrians, not cars
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present my paper "A Return to the Town Square" at the 2017 APA MN Planning Conference in Mankato, Minnesota the last week of September and again today at the International Making Cities Livable conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I gained great insight into how other people think about and interact with the town square during the question and answer portion. Across countries and even cities in the United States they function very differently. I look forward to continuing the research into the future, expanding upon what makes a town square successful and a benefit to the citizens it is designed to serve.
A Return to the Town Square
The town square was an integral city function for centuries throughout the world. It was the central hub of activity, a place for gathering to celebrate, receive information, conduct business, and to simply sit. They have changed over time, losing prominence in recent decades with attitudes changing about society and how we interact. Before technology took off and created an environment that allowed for information at your fingertips, individuals gathered in town squares to share information, discuss politics, and transact business. The classic town square can be re-imagined to function as it used to, to bring people together to interact face to face and create an educated and active society. We can use the town square as an inviting place that allows people to gather to celebrate, conduct business, and engage in discussion.
Below is a concept image of what the space in front of Anoka's City Hall could become if it was redesigned as an engaging public space. By opening up the facade to interact with the outside, visitors will be more engaged with the activities going on inside. Removing cars from this intersection through the use of seating height bollards creates a safe environment while doubling as additional seating. The addition of patio seating spreading out from the adjacent restaurants draws users into the plaza space and creates the opportunity for spontaneous interactions. Lastly, public officials can better engage their citizens by holding meetings or giving presentations on the plaza. The addition of a display board lets citizens know what meetings are coming up and could double as a display, projecting meetings that are taking place inside.