Are we a plaza people?

Posted: March 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,
Snow at Panera

Yeah, it’s still snowing.

“It has been said that Americans are not a ‘plaza people’ as are the Italians or the French – the implication is that plazas do not fit our lifestyle and therefore we should not build them.  This is demonstrably not true.  The problem has arisen only when plazas did not relate to any activity, when they were simply vast or sterile places designed only as foregrounds for buildings or with no functional reason for their being.  We do not accumulate any longer vast throngs of people to pray or to hear presidential announcements.  The radio and television have taken care of that.  What we do need are small-scaled plazas as outdoor living rooms, places to see and be seen.  Our plazas need to be lived in.”  – – Lawrence Halprin, as quoted in Landscape Architecture Magazine and New York New York. 

Lawrence Halprin, one of America’s most revered landscape architects, passed away last year.  His concepts and designs changed the way we think about our outdoor spaces.

The quote is from 1968.  You can add the internet and smart phones to his comment about radio and television.  The more cyber-connected we become, the less physically connected we are.  (Yesterday in Panera’s I observed a family of four at a table, three of the four heads were bowed, as if in prayer.  As I walked by I saw that they were all thumb typing on their phones.)

What do you think?  Are we a plaza people?  Can you give me an example of a good plaza and why you like it?  Because this is a regional blog, you get bonus points if you can give me an example in or around West Virginia.

  1. Jeffrey Ling says:

    Yes! Outdoor space is critical to quality urban living! While not considered by some to be ‘plaza people’, even us northerners dine ‘al fresco’ in the summer and take our morning coffee (and some committee meetings) outside. With the prohibition of smoking inside restaurants, the smoke patio in many bar’s and dining locations are far more crowded then inside! Tobacco usage may be an incentive, but the experience is heighten by social interaction and culinary involvements.

    With the multiplication of propane pedestal heaters, the outdoor season is expanded by months here in the Midwest. Yet proper design, orientation, materials and presentation can add days and weeks in utilization anywhere in America.

    For many of us the ultimate “plaza” is found Saturday and Sunday mornings, tailgating before the big game, even in Morgantown (points for WV reference?).

    More opportunities mean more involvements! Is anyone up for tailgating 6 days a week?

  2. John Manchester says:

    When I think of plazas, I think primarily of hardscape elements where the plaza extends from the businesses along the street into a hardscaped public meeting and gathering area. While we do not have such an area in Lewisburg, we do have a corner/center greenspace that functions in much the same way–gathering place for locals and visitors to watch goings-on. It serves as a principal venue for music at our First Fridays events each month. During the week in good weather, you find a mix of people sitting on the walls and benches talking, reading, laptopping and running thru the fountain. In the coming building season, we will be closing off half an alley and taking back a few parking spaces to allow it to expand, still keeping the gathering space goal but still trying to maitain it as more greenspace than hardscape.

  3. Steve B says:

    The problem with plazas are they tend to be an afterthought in the design or redesign of an area, and are not a relaxing setting. For example, a restaurant sticks tables outside–around here that tends to mean your just sitting outside in the parking lot or against the curb with traffic going by. This was probably even developed as a way to allow patrons a cigarette after their meal.

    i feel we are heading back to the plaza theme that dominated in the mid 20th century to give some variance to the mall; but with the “green” thought in the process to make them a more vital part to the businesses.

  4. Mr. Bird:
    Only if these plazas provide us with something we don’t even know we want or need until we’ve seen it: places for people to gather and network, a place for people to go and hang when they want to send the signal “ignore the laptop or the book, I’m approachable here – I’m available for exchange of ideas here.”

    In some cities a well-placed Starbucks with lots of seating (inside and out) serves that purpose. Communities need a place where people can go and hang when they want to signal their availability for conversation and networking.

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