“We all need space”

“We all need space; unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”

This quote comes from Octavia Hill, writing in 1875, in Homes of the London Poor:

“There is a small, square, green churchyard in Drury Lane, and even the sight of its fresh bright verdure through the railings is a blessing; but if the gates could be opened on a hot summer evening, and seats placed there for the people, I am sure the dwellers about Drury Lane would be all the better for it.”

Octavia Hill’s legacy may well serve as inspiration for those seeking to enable better places for people to live in (as well as visit)–places meaning inclusive, shared places; people meaning the wider community.  Small-scale, thoughtful changes can sometimes have profound consequences.

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Cervezeros crafting “better places”

As well as having an interest in how different places pulse, I also love following the craft beer movement, whether that’s here in Barcelona/Catalunya/Spain/Iberia/the Med, or further beyond. So my interest leapt when I read of the marriage of both:

Modern Times exists to make extraordinary beer. But it’s also an actor in the life of this city. It has a responsibility to shape its own environment, to constructively engage with the city upon which it relies. One of the ways it will do that is by helping to transform San Diego into a better, more liv[e]able place.

The wonder of the Internet returns…  I have found a kindred spirit way out west in California!

Read Transforming San Diego if you think the liquid poetry and social catalyst of good beer can have anything to do with shaping better places to live in and better places to visit. And please comment here on what you see as the real and possible connections between the two.


Sense of development

Dominant transport modes have a major effect on sense of place and other ways we experience and imagine urban places. They can both energise and afflict a place; both clutter and adorn a place with their concomitant infrastructures. Just think of cycle taxis and tuk-tuks in Indian and South East Asian cities, gridlock in LA, civilised cycling in Amsterdam, or commuters flooding off trains and metro services in London and Tokyo before scurrying away into their studios and offices. Picture the absence of cars in mediaeval market towns, or in the plazas of world heritage hotspots. Perhaps ancient tram wheels squeal out their steely call a couple of streets away. Or maybe a modern tram glides into view.

So, here’s a “thought for the day” from someone who has the responsibility of overseeing transportation as well as the social, economic and cultural life, environment and reputation of his city. Gustavo Petro:


Trade-offs in “capital public spaces”

A piece in The Economist pitches New York against London in terms of progress on “bettering” public spaces.  More usefully, it provides an overview of some of the key dynamics shaping today’s “capital public spaces” as well as people’s relationships with them, i.e.:

  • continued pedestrianisation and trading off visitor (tourist) interests against the interests of car-dependent or business-owning locals;
  • the insidious privatisation of public space;
  • place-making changes shaped by commercial motives, not community needs and sentiments;
  • the forces of power and control shaping public space.

Decent public space became an economic necessity.

For the washed, who quite like shopping and safety, such space is a great deal better than nothing.

The problem comes down to governance. While New York’s mayor is all-powerful, London’s shares power with 32 boroughs, which often have conflicting agendas.


Collecting our senses in Collserolla

Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona.  One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park.  While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the densely-populated built-up area.

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