The village green at MainStrasse, Covington, Kentucky.
Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy?
Yes, it’s been a while. The truth is, I’ve exhausted the good public spaces in my corner of the world. So exploring I go.
I’m working on a project in Covington, Kentucky, a city I first came to know at my niece’s wedding. What I remembered from that visit is the spectacular view of the Cincinnati skyline across the Ohio River. But now I’ve been able to walk the streets of Covington and have discovered some nice spaces. I’ll be sharing those with you over the next few weeks. First, let’s got to MainStrasse Village.
MainStrasse is on the National Register for Historic places and it’s easy to see why. Historic homes and buildings are everywhere, as are references to the Village’s German immigrant roots. All of this is good for history buffs, but what I like is that it’s a great place to hang out and be among people. In other words, a it’s a great public space.
To get there, I traveled west on Sixth Street, under a railroad overpass, into what feels like another world. The first thing you notice when entering this way is the wide median separating the streets. Kind of a village green. In fact, the green was once used as an open-air livestock and produce market.
As you travel west on Sixth Street, you come to the intersection of Main Street and Sixth. This is where the action begins. On Main Street are shops, restaurants and pubs – everything you could want for a lazy afternoon. Sidewalk cafes abound, and then spill over into the Sixth Street village green plaza. It’s here we can see some of the principles of good design at work.
At lunch time, the plaza attracts a crowd, and the moveable table and chairs allows for that little bit of freedom to sit where you want. It’s one of those very subtle liberties that you’re not even aware of, yet it has a significant impact on the subconscious when we look back at the sum total of our experience. When tables and chairs are anchored into the pavement, it feels like an institution. When you can scoot your chair a little, even if it’s just a few inches, it feels more like a party.
The plaza is the center of life in MainStrasse.
Sidewalk cafes on Main Street.
Another good design principle at work is the choice of levels of intimacies. You can snuggle right next to someone special (intimate space), keep an arm’s length distance (personal space), chat with the people at the next table (social space), or have a seat on a bench along the green with reasonable assurance that no one is going to bother you (public space). In fact, the green is so broad that even someone walking down the middle of the walkway will feel comfortable because they are in their own public space zone.
I’m fairly sure MainStrasse Village is not the result of someone’s grand design. It looks like it just happened. But give the city leaders of Covington credit. They have recognized a good thing and preserved it. It’s a lesson for all of us.Sidewalk cafes on Main Street.