Mind games and the garden gate.

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Are you a rational, logical thinker or do you operate on gut instinct?

Consider your first visit to an unfamiliar urban plaza.  You need to know if it’s safe.  The rational, logical thinker might contact the local police and ask about the plaza.  Maybe take a look at statistics, discerning which times of the day are safer than others.  He might inquire of the local shop owners, get the streetwise perspective.  After gathering all the information, he can then make a rational, logical decision regarding the safety of the plaza.

Anybody ever do that?

Of course not.  We might not even consciously consider safety when visiting that unfamiliar public space.  Upon arrival, however, our subconscious will kick in and we will scope out the space, look for scary people, hidden corners, and escape routes.  We will analyze the park’s image, determine if it’s well-maintained, and look for amenities or something interesting to do.  Then we will weigh all the positives and potential benefits against the perceived risks.  Then we will make a decision.  And all of this happens in the blink of an eye.  (It’s a concept Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his entertaining and very interesting book, Blink, which I highly recommend.)

Consider the garden gate.  If you were on a private estate, touring the gardens, the discovery of such a passageway might be intriguing.  There’s a mystery about what’s on the other side.  In the right setting, the narrow gate is an excellent entrance to another space.

In an urban or public setting, our blink evaluation would likely inhibit us from entering.  The question of what’s on the other side — or if we would even be welcome — would probably be enough to keep us out.  Of course you would not really expect to find a garden gate as an entrance to an urban public space.

So if the narrow entrance can be inhibiting, can we assume that the broad, easy access is better in the public setting?

Absolutely.

First, it enables us to perform our blink evaluation much more easily.  This alone is going to give us a good feeling.

Then there’s the idea that there is no gate at all, either physically or psychologically.  With everything open, the space will feel more inviting.

The broad entrance can be made even more inviting if we can provide a transition zone, where we can stop and consider our options without actually committing to entering the space.  Maybe just a wide area next to the sidewalk where we can stop, look in, and think about it.  Being able to do that is another little bit of psychology in gradually drawing the visitor into the space.  Low, easy steps can also be a transition, causing people to linger, one foot on, one foot off.

Access to Pullman Square in Huntington is broad, easy, and inviting.

Now of course, the broad, easy access is only part of the equation.  If the other elements aren’t there, we’re not likely to cross the threshold.  But if we don’t have the easy access, the odds are against attracting many visitors.  There’s a lot of psychology in play.  The more we understand that, the more successful our public spaces can be.

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Comments
  1. I love this post! Great job as always. I hope municipal officials read your blog in droves.

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