Triangulation.

Posted: January 16, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Last fall my wife and I enjoyed a weekend getaway at a cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway and one evening we decided to chase a sunset in hopes of a dramatic photo.  As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, we found an overlook with a promising view.  We chatted with some hikers just coming off a trail, then settled on the hillside and waited for the sun to color the sky.

There were a handful of other people with the same idea, and before long we had started a conversation with another couple.  Turns out they were locals, both professors at nearby Radford University.  As the sun continued to set, we talked about cameras, West Virginia and even learned how our new friends from Virginia had met.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but our casual conversation was the result of a phenomenon known as triangulation.

According to William “Holly” Whyte, triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to one another as if they knew each other.

In our case, the sunset served as the external stimulus, giving us something in common to talk about.  In public spaces, many things can serve as the external stimulus.  It could be a view of something outside the public space such as a sunset or another irresistible dramatic view.  It could be a water feature or a sculpture.  It could even be other people or an event, maybe a street performer or a bluegrass band.

Yes, it’s common sense.  Maybe too common.  We are often impressed by the big, dramatic answers, yet more often what is really effective is a series of smaller, not-so-dramatic ideas that work together much like seemingly random threads work together to create a magnificent tapestry.

Imagine:  You go to the public plaza and discover a new sculpture.  As you try to figure out what it represents, someone asks you what you think about it.  Even if you admit that you know nothing about art, you will likely have a pleasant exchange with a new acquaintance, which you will now forever associate with the public plaza.

Features in a public space are more than just features, they can also serve to bring people together.  Knowing this should influence the placement and configuration of features so that opportunities for socialization may be maximized.

 

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Comments
  1. Dave Skeen says:

    There’s a lot of people we’ve talked to because we were walking the dogs. Dog parks are as much for people as they are for dogs.

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