Intimacy and the Public “Place”

If you browse the internet for information on Placemaking you are bound to stumble upon a multitude of references to outstanding public places, big and small, well-known and not, some highly intentioned, a few accidental:

Photo of St. Louis Square (Carre St-Louis) courtesy of TripAdvisor

– intimate old town squares like Montreal’s Square St. Louis with its imposing 19th century homes
– storied markets like Toronto’s Kensington intended as a large estate home development but divided into smaller plots to house Toronto’s new immigrants in the ’20’s
– parks like Vancouver’s Stanley Park “created” a mere two years after the city’s first street lights were turned on

Plus a few not so outstanding ones like Toronto’s waterfront, cut off visually and psychologically from the rest of the city by roads and high-rise condos as opposed to Chicago’s waterfront, the result of a renewal project engendered by Mayor Daly’s dream to see people fish and grill their catch on the river’s shore.

The history of each one and every one of these urban spaces and its journey, successful or not, to becoming a “place” is fascinating and much can be learned from those journeys, failed as well as successful.

But, in the end what we all want to know is why one journey was successful and one was not. What worked and what did not work?

I contend that whether or not a public “space” works — in other words is transformed into a public “place” — depends upon the same factor that defines a “successful” private place.

And that is the ability of that place to engender a sense of intimacy.

Intimacy: closeness, warmth, familiarity, an affection for things shared.

Intimacy is created, within a lifetime, or within a generation, in moments shared with others. Of what significance would those pencil lines etched upon an archway or door frame be if they had not been scratched there by one’s mother or father when you were four years old, then seven years old, then eleven?

Moments shared. Another way, perhaps, of saying that sense of place depends upon a shared story.

But a sense of intimacy brings a new factor into the equation. Yes, experience within the space must be shared, but it must, too, be intimate, mysteriously salvaged by our memory out of the stream of moments we have known and brought down to size within the present, scaled down to fit within the now.

Moments, encapsulated within a generation, a lifetime. The small within the big.

And if any public space hopes to be successful it must meet that challenge, be like human memory, and bring the small within the big, create intimacy within the stream of time.

We all have our favourites, these very special, intimate public places.

Where are your’s? Please share them with us in our comments section.

By | 2016-11-15T09:05:57+00:00 July 12th, 2012|Ideas on Living "Large" Urban-Style|

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