Hello! My name is Leigh and I’m interested in the public spaces of Washington, DC. In particular I’m interested in what makes a public space work and not work, what draws people to one location and causes them to avoid another. I plan on evaluating these spaces by looking at the people who populate these areas, their layout, and the feel of the area. Just a disclaimer, these are my own opinions based on what I observe and are interpreted through how I enjoy public spaces; other people might love a space that I don’t like. We all experience these areas in different ways.
A little about me
I grew up in a small town in Western North Carolina. Growing up, we spent a lot of time hiking and camping; I even worked at an apple orchard in high school. I loved living in the mountains and attending summer camp at one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the chance to spend time in. Vacations were spent in outdoor areas. We went to Yellowstone, the Grand Teton National Park, and the Outer Banks to name a few. If the locale was not particularly outdoorsy, such as Boston or Atlanta, my parents still found a way to spend time outside either through half marathons or biking through the small towns of Massachusetts.
In college, I had the privilege to spend 8 months in Europe. First, in Vienna, Austria and then travelling for a month on my way to Salamanca, Spain. This is where I learned about my love of public spaces. What better way to spend a day than to find a park or plaza, sit at a cafe or on a bench, people watching and reading a book. I even made it a priority to try and visit at least one park in every city I visited.
What makes a great public space?
First and foremost people must consistently gather or pass through public spaces. If there are no people, the space is not being used and cannot be considered a great public space. Public spaces are meant to be enjoyed by people.
The layout must be conducive for multiple uses. Whether that means it is a large open square or a living room park with lots of different areas the public space must be laid out in such a way that different things can happen. In regards to streets and sidewalks, this means a variety of buildings lining the way.
Is there one primary use or lots of different uses? Do people only use the space as a way to get from point A to point B or do they meander and gather. Is there a group of people or an organization that helps put on public events in the space? This is the aspect I believe can be changed by a motivated public. If people want to reclaim dead public space they need to create reasons for people to populate the area.