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Whatever Happened to the Public Square?

January 6, 2009

The public square is one of the quintessential parts of a vibrant neighborhood. Unfortunately, public squares aren’t as popular as they once were. In centuries past, every town and city had at least one public square, sometimes many. Ideally, every neighborhood should have a square that is the center of the activity within that neighborhood. The square provides a formal or informal meeting place for people to interact with each other. It also provides a place for people to stop and rest. It provides a place for children to play. Historically, public squares were in the geographic center of the city and were flanked by an important building, such as the city hall or cathedral. Sometimes, the square contained a water feature or sculpture to add interest. Oftentimes, the square was the location of the daily market, where people would go to gather supplies for the next day’s worth of meals.

Below is a list of some of the more famous squares from around the world (click on the name to go to the Wikipedia entry):

  1. Piazza Navona, Rome
  2. Piazza San Marco, Venice
  3. Rockefeller Center, New York City
  4. Tiananmen Square, Beijing
  5. Red Square, Moscow
  6. Trafalgar Square, London
  1. January 11, 2009 6:34 pm

    When I lived in Spain (okay, 25 years ago, but still…) every single city, town or village had a “Plaza Mayor.” It was a place to hang out — a destination for young and old alike. The plaza mayor can be the heartbeat of a place and provide a sense of community and belonging.

    I live in San Francisco now, which I love, but yesterday I was walking my dog up Market Street and wishing we had a Plaza Mayor. Not one of those horrible sterile vast open spaces near town hall, but a vibrant, people-filled, public place where people just hang out.

  2. Margaret permalink
    January 12, 2009 5:53 pm

    I grew up in a small town in central GA. The square is still the center of the community and holds weekly farmer’s market and annual festivals. The community planners in this small town have been careful to maintain the importance of this community center and have thus far been successful. I’m hopeful it will be the same way for many years to come.

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