Never been to Spain.

Posted: August 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’m not a world traveller.  (Bonus points if you can name the song reference in the post title.) Went to Mexico once when I was a kid.  Spent a few days in Aruba several years ago at a conference.  That’s it.

Not that I wouldn’t love to see the world and experience different cultures, but for whatever the reasons, that just hasn’t happened.

On the other hand…

Last week I was involved in a group discussion about public spaces started by Sara, a consultant in the United Arab Emirates.  Ingrid, a Scandinavian studying in London, suggested I read Jan Gehl’s writings on the subject.  From New Delhi, architect Ashmita weighed in, as did Trevor from the UK.  There were others.

A couple of things about this little international forum.  First, the need for good public spaces is common among all people of the world, even in the ultra-rich United Arab Emirates. Sara had started the conversation by posting a newspaper article about an urban planning conference in Abu Dhabi to address the lack of green spaces in the UAE.  Yes, the home of indoor snow skiing and the world’s tallest skyscraper needs more and better public spaces.   And the desired activities in public spaces are universal.  Everyone wants a place to sip coffee, hang out, or just watch other people.  Security is also paramount.

One of the things that varies significantly is climate.  At the time of our forum, it was 95 degrees in St. Albans.   The UAE can reach about 118.   And no, it’s not a dry heat.  Public spaces in the Middle East have to take that harsh reality into account.  It’s little wonder that malls have become the de facto public space of the UAE.

It is also apparent that developing successful public spaces is a difficult thing.  There is a universal need to design at a human scale, and quite often a public space will fail because the needs of people weren’t adequately considered.  It’s easy to create a public space.  It’s much harder to do it right.

By the time the discussion had run its course, I had learned much.  Of course I had learned a little about different cultures, but these colleagues from around the world also taught me a little bit more about the design of public spaces.  And these weren’t just people with a casual interest, they were highly educated leaders in their professions.

How did we all get together?  Most of you probably know the answer:  LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is, first and foremost, a professional networking site.  But it is so much more.  There are discussion groups for just about any topic you can imagine.  The discussion above happened in the Urban Planning Group.  I’ve had similar encounters with professionals in the American Society of Landscape Architects Group.  LinkedIn is an amazing tool to learn from accomplished professionals from around the world.

If you’re not in LinkedIn, click the link on the right and get going.  You won’t regret it.

In her short note recommending Jan Gehl, Ingrid pointed me to another website, the Project for Public Spaces.  Tons of good and interesting information.  I’ve also added the link to the right.

No, I’ve never been to Spain.  But some day I’m sure I’ll learn from someone who has.

  1. Nelle Chilton says:

    Keep up the interesting and important conversation. Thanks.

  2. Charles Bird says:

    Aw, Joe. The song is classic Three Dog Night.

    I think the Linkedin international connections are terrific. But I encourage you to start hitting some other continents! I once stood in the middle of a bridge in Russia, over the Ural River, that the locals claimed was the boundary between Europe and Asia. I thought that was very cool, but I’m aware that geographers consider the boundary to be about 500 miles further to the east.

    I haven’t made it to Spain, yet, either.

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