|Learn how to create community environments that promote diverse community engagement.|
Until fairly recently, most people in the world grew up, lived out their lives, and died within 10 or 20 miles of where they were born. To them, their communities meant what they had always known – families and neighbors, familiar places, a daily rhythm, social systems and customs they understood, work they had done since childhood. Now, with emigration and greater physical and social mobility, many of the world’s people find themselves in places far from home, living in communities defined not by common acquaintance, knowledge, and culture, but by geography or economics. Rather than knowing their neighbors from childhood, they may not know their neighbors at all.
“Community” derives from the Latin “communis,” meaning common. A community was understood to be a group of people who knew one another, and shared common cultural assumptions, interests, concerns, and goals, largely because they lived together and always had. Now, in order to create community, whether in a rural area, a small town, or a large city, it’s often necessary to bring people together so that they can get to know one another, learn about one another’s cultures, and develop common interests, concerns, and goals. Yet, especially in large cities, people often live either in isolation, or surrounded only by others who are similar to themselves in language, culture, and assumptions. How do we build communities that are trusting and supportive, and that can reflect and embrace the diversity of backgrounds, ethnicity, race, and culture that make up much of today’s society?
This can be as much of an issue for communities made up of people with similar backgrounds and experiences as for those that are more diverse. The isolation of life in a large city, where many residents are transplants from elsewhere, can work against the building of community.
This section is about building community through taking down the physical and psychological barriers that people and municipalities build, often unintentionally, to separate people – particularly, but not always, people in different circumstances – from one another.
By creating spaces where all members of the community can mix naturally and get to know one another as human beings, communities can become communities in the true meaning of the word – places where people not only live together, but care about one another, and share common hopes for themselves and their children.
What do we mean by good places for interaction?
Social interaction is the meaningful contact people have with one another. “Meaningful” is an important word here, because it implies an exchange that includes real communication, even if only for a moment, and leaves each party feeling that he’s shared something with another human being. Good places for interaction are places where people – often from many parts of the community and/or diverse backgrounds – meet naturally and interact comfortably and often pleasurably because of the nature or attraction of the space and/or the activities associated with it.
Good places for interaction are spaces that make people from different areas and backgrounds want to be there. In order for that to be the case, these spaces need four basic characteristics:
- There has to be a reason for people to go there
- There has to be a reason for people to want to stay once they’ve arrived
- People in the space have to feel safe and comfortable
- The space has to be welcoming and accessible to everyone
There are many different kinds of spaces, public and private, rural and urban, that can be good places for interaction. Some of the most common:
- Squares and plazas. In many areas of the world – in the Mediterranean and Latin America, for example – the central square serves as a gathering place for the population. In Greece, for instance, families take their evening walk around the square or along the seafront, exchanging greetings with others, stopping to talk or snack on ice cream or other street food.
Important squares in cities and villages all over the world often serve as a focus for municipal activity, and as gathering places for residents. Squares and plazas are the equivalent of the Agora in ancient Athens or the Forum in Rome, where citizens came to do business, engage in politics, and socialize.
- Public buildings and their surroundings. In many countries, particularly in the democracies of Europe and North America, the steps and surroundings of many state buildings – and often the buildings themselves – serve as the sites for rallies, speeches, and ceremonies. From historic turning points – Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC – to local performances, events bring citizens from all walks of life to gather and mix at their public buildings.
- Pedestrian streets. Many cities – Copenhagen is a prime example – have streets that are closed to vehicular traffic, either some or all of the time. These pedestrian passages – often lined with stores whose businesses are enhanced by the flow of pedestrians past their doors – allow people to rub shoulders with others from the community to stop for conversation without the noise and other distractions of traffic. They often harbor street performers, outdoor cafes, festivals, and other features that encourage interaction.
- Streets and boulevards. Streets with wide sidewalks, canopies of trees that screen those sidewalks from traffic, dramatic views, many places to shop and eat, and interesting streetscapes become outdoor living rooms, destinations in themselves, where it’s fun just to linger or walk, window-shop, and mix with the crowds. The Champs Elysees in Paris is one of the best examples: with its palaces and gardens at one end, the Arc de Triomphe at the other, and its wide, tree-lined sidewalks with innumerable interesting shops and cafes, it invites strolling and conversation.
For all the above-mentioned spaces, and for many of those that follow, the presence of cafes, bars, and restaurants can be a major factor in creating good spaces for interaction. Eating and drinking together has always been a community-building activity. It’s why major holidays in most cultures include a traditional meal of some sort, and why important events are often celebrated with a feast or banquet. Cafes and restaurants provide both the space and the excuse for mixing (“That looks good. What is it?” “I couldn’t help noticing you’re reading ‘La Repubblica.’ We just spent a year in Rome.”)
- Bridges. It might seem odd to include here places that serve merely to get from one side of a body of water or canyon – or road – to the other. It is their function, however, that can make bridges into good places for interaction. Many of them command spectacular views – think of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – or bear much of the traffic between important areas of the community. When these bridges are provided with opportunities for interaction, they can in fact become even more than the natural gathering places they often are.
The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City is a historic and engineering landmark, which has a pedestrian and bicycle pathway set above its lanes of traffic. Tourists and residents alike walk the bridge for the views, the experience, or simply to get from one side of the East River to the other. In two places, the path widens to accommodate historic markers and viewing areas, and people tend to congregate and mix there.
The 750-year-old Charles Bridge in Prague spans the Vltava River between the Old Town and the Castle district. Long the main connection between the two sides of the river, it is lined with 17th-Century statues and with artists, mimes and musicians, souvenir hawkers, and peddlers. In addition to offering one of the most romantic views of the city, the bridge is a center of activity – there’s always something interesting happening, and conversations among strangers and acquaintances are constant.
- Markets. Real markets – a square, a street, or a whole neighborhood of pushcarts, temporary booths, and occasional storefronts, displaying a variety of fresh food items, clothing, and other goods – still exist in many communities around the world. The market – a human gathering spot for thousands of years, probably since before cities existed – may be the original good place for interaction.
Although open-air markets and market districts are more common in the developing world, farmers’ markets and urban markets – the Campo dei Fiori in Rome, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Reading Terminal, an indoor market in Philadelphia – still exist, and create the atmosphere and opportunities for interaction among buyers and between buyers and sellers.
- Public transportation. Good public transportation can encourage interaction in many ways. It is used by riders of every description, and seating patterns often result in conversations among strangers, especially when there’s a delay. Both vehicles and waiting areas can offer inducements to making contact with others – short videos or movies, thought-provoking billboards, interactive games, etc. Furthermore, many subway stations and bus depots have other attractions – places to eat, newsstands, performers – that invite people to linger, rather than rush out on arrival.
- Parks. Urban parks can range from 9,200-acre (about 3,723 hectares) Fairmount Park in Philadelphia to a pocket park of a quarter of an acre or less, tucked into an intersection or a nook between the wings of a building. In addition to providing a quiet green spot amid the concrete and traffic, a city park can serve as a neighborhood focus, with playgrounds, picnic tables and grills, sports fields, and other facilities bringing together adults and children from all corners of the area.
Playgrounds are particularly fertile areas of interaction, where parents have a ready-made topic of conversation – their children – and a vast amount of shared experience. Furthermore, the same parents are likely to meet at the same playgrounds often, and thus to have the opportunity to develop real relationships.
Another factor in park interaction is the role of dogs. In most western societies, where dogs are walked regularly, dog owners are as likely as the parents of small children to meet regularly because of the dogs’ need to get acquainted with and greet one another. Parks that include dog parks – essentially playgrounds for dogs – bring the same dog owners together on a regular basis, and may also result in the formation of real relationships. Dog ownership is so conducive to interaction that in some large cities – New York, for example – there are dog-rental businesses for people who want to meet others.
State and national parks are also places where significant interaction usually takes place. Both on hiking trails (see below) and at various attractions – waterfalls, geysers, scenic viewpoints – people seem more comfortable making contact with others than they might be in other settings. The fact that everyone is there with a common goal – to see the features of the park – makes conversation easier, and creates a sense of shared experience that breaks down social barriers.
- Walking and biking trails. These trails are used by a wide variety of people, and are a great place for community interaction.
To learn more about creating community trails, visit Rails to Trails, a national organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines to build healthier places for healthier people.
- Theaters, sports facilities, libraries, museums, and other places where people gather for entertainment and leisure activities. The activities that take place in these spaces attract diverse groups of people and invite them to share and discuss their experiences.
- Schools. These can be places where children and youth of different cultures clash, or they can be places where those same kids develop lifelong friendships and learn to cherish their friends’ differences. It’s never too early to encourage children to make friends across racial, ethnic, class, and cultural lines or to emphasize the common humanity that all share. If there’s an effort on the part of educators to respect each child for who she is and to create an atmosphere of warmth and shared purpose, schools can be the best places of all for interaction. Furthermore, by bringing in people from the community as educational resources, and sending students out to do community service, schools can encourage inter-generational interaction as well.
This was something both sides of the segregation argument knew, and why it took a Supreme Court decision to end school segregation (separate schools for black and white students). The U.S. Integrationists hoped, and segregationists feared, that if black and white children went to school together, they might forget their differences, become friends, and create a multiracial society. While the result has been short of that so far, there is no question that, in the American South particularly, the climate of race relations has changed drastically, at least partially because of the fact that many black and white citizens came to know – and respect – each other in school.
- College and university campuses. These are generally open to the public, and are often enhanced by works of art, massive old trees, and buildings of architectural interest. They may be the sites of concerts, classic films, lectures, and other cultural events as well, and are often just pleasant places to sit and enjoy the surroundings.
A word has to be said here about malls, since they represent one of the most common types of urban and suburban space. Some people see them as prime places for interaction, but many others find them soulless and impersonal. The truth is that they can be either. Many, perhaps most, are in fact sterile, artificial environments that are conducive to little besides spending money, which is, after all, the purpose for their existence. Others are lively, exciting places that serve to bring diverse groups together.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and River Market in Little Rock, Arkansas, are examples of developments that are essentially malls, but function as public gathering places and centers of activity. Both include an assortment of interesting and quirky stores, large numbers of food outlets and restaurants of all types, spaces for performances and public or private meetings, and access to parks, walking trails, and other attractions.
Some malls double as walking tracks for elders, pleasant indoor spaces in climates where such spaces are sorely needed, and safe places for pre-teens and teens to gather. When, like Faneuil Hall and River Market, they occupy locations that are easy to get to, malls can be good interactive spaces.
Even “good” malls cause arguments about whether they are in fact any improvement over what existed before. Faneuil Hall was the old Boston wholesale food market, a lively, gritty place where you might see a bloodstained worker carrying a side of beef passing an idling Mercedes with a silver-haired Boston Brahmin matron at the wheel. The new Marketplace is as full of tourists as of locals, and the old market functions only at the edges, within a smaller space and more limited hours of operation than in the past. Many similar mall developments cater primarily to an upscale clientele, effectively shutting out lower income residents. Whether a particular mall is actually a good place for interaction or not is often largely a matter of opinion, and dependent on the preconceptions of the observer.
Good places for interaction are spaces that make people from different areas and backgrounds want to be there. In order for that to be the case, these spaces need four basic characteristics:
- There has to be a reason for people to go there.
- There has to be a reason for people to want to stay once they’ve arrived.
- People in the space have to feel safe and comfortable.
- The space has to be welcoming and accessible to everyone.
- We’ll discuss these characteristics at length in the “How-to...” part of the section.
Why create good places for interaction?
- They can help to develop a sense of community pride and ownership. Especially if they’ve worked together to build or improve spaces where people can come together, the people who use them can start to see them as centers of their community, and as belonging to them.
- They can help build a true sense of community among people of diverse origins, backgrounds, and points of view. By getting to know one another, people with different histories and assumptions can establish relationships and begin to value their differences as well as their similarities.
- They can expand children’s horizons through interactions with people who have different assumptions and expectations. Through contact with friends with different world views, children can broaden their own, and realize there are different ways of looking at and experiencing life, and different paths that people can take. This interaction may also increase the number of positive adult role models in children’s lives.
- They can make the community a more pleasant place to live because more people have contact with one another. If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood or small town where most people know one another, and where you’re constantly greeted as you walk down the street, you know how pleasant that can be. It creates a sense of community, and makes you feel that this is your place and these are your people.
- They can increase the general enjoyment of life in the community. The sharing of food, traditions, games, festivals, and family celebrations – whether with people from various cultures or with neighbors from similar backgrounds – simply makes life more fun. The opportunity for relaxed conversation with old friends or new acquaintances, a place to sit in the winter sun, a neighborhood festival – all of these enrich our lives.
- They can increase safety and security. When people in the neighborhood know one another from meeting regularly, they are more likely to look out for one another as well. That means eyes on the street, a feeling of ownership of the neighborhood, and less tolerance of both crime and unsafe situations (speeding traffic in residential areas, cracked sidewalks where elders might trip, open manholes, etc.)
- They can improve the livability of neighborhoods. Good places for interaction are also good places to be. They’re generally pleasant, close to or linked to services and shopping, and filled with friends or potential friends. That in itself improves neighborhood livability, but such spaces may also nurture the kind of neighborhood solidarity and good feeling that leads to neighborhood clean-ups, taking back the streets from drug dealers and gangs, and advocating for increases in services.
- They can promote individuals’ understanding of one another’s culture and humanity. As people get to know one another, they understand better that we’re all human, with essentially the same hopes and fears, although these may be expressed in different ways, and our attempts to address them may be different. The differences in culture, in most cases, become interesting, rather than threatening, as people become more comfortable and friendly with one another. The sharing of food, traditions, and celebrations help to break down the barriers to the appreciation of diversity.
- They can provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. The more people interact, and particularly the more they engage in enjoyable or substantive activities together – helping to build a playground in a neighborhood park, participating in a community celebration – the more they find out about one another, and the more they begin to understand that their goals are similar, even though their ideas about how to achieve them may be different. That understanding leads to mutual respect and a broadening of views – although not necessarily to agreement – and strengthens the community as a whole
- They can increase equity. By encouraging people of different economic levels to mix and develop relationships, the interactive spaces in a community can provide low-income people with some of the social networking opportunities that people higher up the economic ladder take for granted. The ultimate result, in some cases, may be a neighborhood or community presenting a united front in a fight for greater equity. It can also lead to employment opportunities and other possibilities that allow lower-income people to change their lives.
- They can increase social capital, particularly bridging social capital. Social capital is the sum of the benefit that people build up from their web of relationships. According to Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), there are two kinds. Bonding social capital is the advantage people develop from relationships with those who are essentially similar to themselves. Bridging social capital is that gained from relationships with people who are quite different, whether in culture, race or ethnicity, economic status, political philosophy, or all of these and more besides.
All social capital comes from constructing networks of acquaintance and friendship through meeting and getting to know others. The opportunity for that can come from repeated business transactions, from neighborhood events, or simply from meeting on the street day after day in your neighborhood. Good places for interaction, if they attract people from many areas and/or diverse backgrounds, can increase the chances for building bridging social capital, which is an important part of the glue that holds communities and societies together.
Social capital is somewhat like economic capital. It’s the social “currency” that’s available for you to spend as a result of your relationships. It manifests itself as the willingness of your neighbors to look after your dog while you’re away, or to loan you a truck to bring home the sofa you bought at the flea market. Social capital grows for both participants in almost every interaction, and with every new person added to a network. Joining an organization or a group often increases it greatly, both because membership may imply certain kinds of obligations that members have to one another, and because it increases social interactions and familiarity with other members, thereby creating a stronger network.
Social capital, like financial capital, flows both ways. You continue to earn it through various kinds of positive interactions, including acknowledging and fulfilling your obligations to others in the network (helping friends move into a new apartment, or taking care of their dog). It’s sometimes used when you don’t even know you have it – that neighbor you never say more than “hello” to may keep an eye on your house when you’re on vacation just because you are a neighbor, and seem like a nice enough person.
- They can increase the chances for concerted community action and social change. The building of a sense of community can also build a sense of shared purpose. It’s much easier to mobilize the community to work for change when there exists among community members a sense of fellowship and mutual respect.
Community action depends on prior interaction. If people do not have a prior relationship, it’s going to be much harder for them to decide to act together for a common cause. In community life, there’s a progression from Seeing to Knowing to Talking to Trusting to Action; and the “talking” part, or interaction, is a basic link in that chain.
When should you create good places for interaction?
Creating good places for interaction should always be kept in mind. The time is especially ripe for creating such places when there is an opening – when the opportunity arises to create a new outdoor or indoor space, or to change an existing one to make it more interactive. Sometimes you can create an opening through civic action, advocacy, or making a suggestion in the right place at the right time; sometimes the opening simply presents itself.
Some of those occasions:
- When the neighborhood or community is engaged in a planning process. Raising the issue of interactive space in public meetings, with property owners interested in developing their lots, abutters to public parks, planners, etc. can lead to its inclusion in a final plan.
- When there’s an economic development initiative. Such an initiative can include mixed-use development that produces tree-lined streets with attractive and varied storefronts, pocket parks with benches that invite office workers and others to eat lunch or simply relax in good weather, or – in places where the weather isn’t so nice for most of the year – underground or enclosed spaces that perform the same function.
Montreal, Canada, which can be bitterly cold for several months a year, has a network of underground streets, well-lit and full of stores, restaurants, and access to buildings, throughout the downtown area. These passages, free of vehicle traffic, out of the weather, and accessible from numerous buildings and from the street, are used daily by half a million people.
- When there’s a new residential or commercial development or major building going up. This is a good time to confer with both the developer and the officials granting permits about the inclusion of interactive space, inside, outside, or both. This can be approached as compensation to the neighborhood for the disturbance caused by construction; as a trade-off for zoning exceptions; as a zoning change that would mandate the inclusion of interactive space in any development of a certain size; or as an option that could be encouraged by tax incentives.
As with anything, you have to be careful what you wish for. There are many sad tales of skyscrapers in New York and elsewhere whose developers built the mandated public plaza outside their buildings, but with little attention to interactive characteristics. The result, all too often, turned out to be a barren, windswept space where the main interactions were drug deals and panhandling.
- When any major municipal project is in process. Whether it is road or bridge repair or construction, new sidewalks, a new public building, or a complete redesign of a city square or park, you can advocate for design that includes or incorporates spaces that encourage interaction.
- When a neighborhood or community gathering place is, or is in danger of, falling into decay or being overrun by gangs, drug dealers, or others who make it unpleasant and dangerous for the community to use it. The example for this section relates how a diverse group of residents in Toronto revitalized a park in a working-class neighborhood and made it a center of activity that attracts neighborhood residents from all backgrounds, and binds them together in a joint effort to maintain it.
- When barriers to interaction are proposed. Although it happens less often than in the Urban Renewal era of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, cities can propose roadways or rail corridors that split neighborhoods, or allow development that blocks natural connecting paths between areas of the community. When this is the case, advocacy is in order, either to stop or relocate the project, or to include in it ways to soften or eliminate its negative effects on community interaction.
- When an existing good place for interaction is threatened. State or local budget cuts may threaten the closure of a park or a community center. A new owner may decide that public access to the landscaped plaza and art-filled lobby of an office building causes too much wear and tear. Spaces where people come together can be threatened for any number of reasons, and it may take some work on the part of the community to reverse the situation.
- When there’s tension among different groups that share an area or live in neighboring areas. We’re talking less about gangs here than about groups or cultures that distrust or are suspicious of one another. Immigrant groups may feel – perhaps rightly – that they are looked down on or misunderstood by their native-born neighbors. Those native-born groups may be worried about immigrants taking their jobs, or simply uncomfortable with unfamiliar customs and language. If there are places where members of these groups can get to know one another and learn about one another’s points of view, customs, and backgrounds, there is a much better chance for understanding and harmony.
Unfortunately, the same isn’t necessarily true when there’s actual violent conflict at issue. Rival gangs, for example, aren’t likely to forget their differences as a result of a community center or sports field accessible to both of their territories. Racial tension can sometimes be eased by providing opportunities for the parties to mix; racial violence doesn’t respond so well to that approach, but can, in fact, be stoked by it. You have to assess the situation carefully when you’re thinking about who will actually interact with whom in a particular place.
Who should be involved in creating good places for interaction?
The real question here is “Who has an interest in having good places for interaction available?” The most important answer to that question is “the people who will use them.” Spaces should be chosen and planned through a participatory process wherever possible, so that the people who’ll use them have a hand in designing in the features they most want. For people with young families, safe and exciting places for children or for family-oriented activities may be important. For youth, it may be sports or game facilities, or the availability of food and drink. For older people, numerous places to sit might be uppermost. For others, it might be interesting things to do, or how the space looks. The best way to design a space that fits the needs of the users is to involve them.
There are others who also might have an interest in creating spaces where interaction takes place. They include:
- Local officials. Good spaces for interaction improve the quality of life in the community, a goal that most local officials share, and one that is likely to improve the economic climate as well.
- Planners, architects, and designers. People whose profession involves the design of spaces are trained to think about how people use those spaces. Interaction is a goal in most current thinking about communities, much of which seeks to combine the natural interactive characteristics of the small towns and villages of long ago with a modern understanding of how people use space and how psychological, as well as physical, barriers can be eliminated, and places made welcoming. For professionals, creating good places for interaction is both an interesting challenge and a way to do their jobs well.
- Developers. A developer can increase the attractiveness of his property by incorporating spaces that people want to use. In addition, he may be able to take advantage of incentives in return for providing such spaces.
- Community leaders and opinion makers. These folks – respected community members, clergy, officers of community organizations, etc. – are generally concerned with building community, and understand, or can come to understand, the community-building potential of spaces that draw people together.
- The business community. Good places for interaction often include businesses, and those that do are almost always good places to do business. The more such spaces exist in a community, the better business is likely to be.
- The police and the court system. Good, well-used and well-populated gathering places make the community safer and reduce the overall crime rate by cutting down on the opportunity for crime, particularly violent crime. They thus make the job of the police easier and less dangerous, and ease the burden on the courts.
- Community activists and community-based organizations. By and large, community building is the aim of these individuals and groups, and supporting interactive places is a natural step toward strengthening community bonds.
How do you create good places for interaction?
There are four aspects of creating good places for interaction:
- Design: What should a space look like, feel like, and contain in order to be a good place for interaction?
- Incentives and regulations: How do you convince developers, builders, and businesses to include good spaces for interaction in their projects?
- Community action: How can community members themselves plan and create a good space for interaction?
- Advocacy: How do you convince local and other governments to pay attention to and foster the development of good places for interaction, to include them in their own projects, and to require – or at least support – the inclusion of such spaces in private projects?
As we’ll explain below, the four characteristics of good places for interaction – providing reasons for people to go there; providing reasons to stay; feeling safe and comfortable; being welcoming and accessible – depend largely on design. It’s important to understand, however, that the design of public spaces is often, if not always, a matter of policy. Incentives and regulations are the tools by which policy favorable to good public spaces can be implemented; community action and advocacy – as well as the ballot – are ways in which the public can influence the direction of policy in the first place. They can make design that takes interaction into account part of the civic culture of a community.
We’ll examine each of these in turn, remembering that each contributes to the overall goal of designing and creating community settings that attract people and maximize opportunities for pleasant conversation and interaction.
Until the 20th Century, villages, towns, and cities all were full of natural gathering places. Depending upon the historic time and place, life revolved around the marketplace, the church, the courthouse, the pub, the post office, the town hall, the train station, or the town or village center. People sat on stoops and porches, or in the street, watching and talking to their neighbors and anyone else who passed by. The primary way to communicate with others was face to face: there had to be places in the community where citizens could gather, or they wouldn’t know what was happening in the community, be able to buy everything they needed, or find companionship or entertainment.
With the coming of telephones, radio and TV, and, ultimately, computers, that all changed. People no longer had to gather physically to communicate or find amusement. In the developed world, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker consolidated and became the supermarket. Many of the natural spaces where people gathered disappeared under skyscrapers, shopping malls, and corporate headquarters.
One of the community building challenges of the 21st Century is to incorporate natural gathering places – good places for interaction – into the design of everything from cities themselves to ten-unit elderly housing complexes. If a community actually engages in planning – by no means a given – and if it actually carries out the plan it comes up with, making changes to meet the needs of citizens as it goes – also not a given – it can work with developers, architects, and others to create spaces that bring people together rather than keep them apart.
As we discussed earlier, the characteristics of good spaces for interaction are that they provide reasons for people to go there; reasons to linger once they’re there; safety and security; and a welcome and accessibility to all. All of these are, to a greater or lesser extent, dependent on design.
Good places for interaction provide reasons for people to go there
Those reasons could be ones of necessity – public transportation hubs, shopping areas, workplaces – or of preference – amusement parks, cafe districts, parks, museums, public squares. In other words, people come there because there’s something there that they either have to or want to do. The activity could be a simple one, like sitting in the sun, or could involve shopping, dinner, and a movie or play.
Some of the features or activities that might attract people to a space include:
- Cafes and restaurants or food vendors. Establishments that serve food and drink draw people, especially in pleasant areas where they can set out tables on a sidewalk or square in good weather.
- Grocery shopping. Grocery shopping may seem one of the least interesting of activities, but it doesn't have to be. Central Market, a supermarket in Austin, Texas, in addition to an enormous array of foods of all kinds (with many free samples), features a cafe with a patio shaded by huge trees, and an imaginative children’s playground, all bounded by a park in which concerts and special events are often staged. The atmosphere is so inviting that the market is actually a destination, particularly for young families. Before or after the family shops, the children can get something they like to eat and then play in the playground while the adults enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee and a leisurely, relatively uninterrupted conversation.
By the same token, farmers’ markets and other open-air markets can provide a good part of a day’s entertainment. The variety of products available; the chance to chat with vendors, many of whom may have made or grown what they sell; the opportunity for conversation with friends and strangers; fresh food (either prepared or from market stalls) – all add reasons to spend a morning, rather than an hour at the market.
- Interesting stores, and/or the possibility of buying many different kinds of items in one place.
Store fronts that bring people onto the street are important for street life. They make the streetscape interesting, encourage pedestrian traffic, keep the scene lively, provide eyes on the street (i.e., make street activity visible to those inside, reducing the opportunity for crime and improving safety on the street), and generally make for a more vibrant neighborhood. When they’re replaced, as they have been in so many American cities, by huge buildings with blank walls on the street, pedestrians disappear and the street becomes, at best, empty and alienating, and, at worst, dangerous.
- Museums, libraries, and similar public-access buildings and their surroundings. Some of these buildings have gathering places built into them – courtyards, lounges, outdoor plazas with seating, etc.
Many of these spaces can be used for events, and thus become destinations. The courtyard in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hosts performances by nationally and internationally known musicians on summer evenings. The museum also opens its galleries on the first Friday of the month to a social gathering.
- Transportation. Subway, bus, and train stations and airports can be filled with features that encourage interaction, as well as making them pleasant places to be. That’s an important consideration, because delays can leave people waiting in these locations for long periods.
- Community festivals and other special events. These might be held in streets closed off to vehicle traffic, in squares and plazas, in parks, or in various kinds of indoor spaces (schools, churches, town halls, convention centers).
- Music. People are naturally attracted to music, of many different forms, but especially forms that fit with the local culture. There might be a noontime concert in the square, or in a local church; a pickup group might play informally in the late afternoon or evening; in smaller communities, townspeople may gather at the local bandstand. In all these cases, the sound of music has significant drawing power.
- Street performers. In places as different as the Ramblas in Barcelona and Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, street performers – musicians, storytellers, mimes, magicians, and others – draw crowds and create an exciting street scene.
- Playhouses, concert halls, and movie theaters. A thought-provoking play or movie, or an exceptional or unusual performance can start a conversation within a group, or even among strangers.
Good places for interaction give people a reason to want to stay once they’ve arrived
Particularly for places where the attraction is the place itself, there has to be something to keep people there. You may want to spend time looking at a view, but if there’s no place to sit the chances are you won’t stay too long. The same is true for a pocket park or a dramatic square. That’s one reason that many of the famous great squares in European cities – and nearly all squares in Italy and Spain – are ringed with the outdoor tables of cafes: for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, you can spend a morning or afternoon sitting with a newspaper or a book, or just watching people and enjoying the day.
Some features that might entice people to spend time in a place once they’ve been drawn there:
- Seating. As mentioned above, a place to sit is an invitation to stay a while. Movable chairs and tables are by far the best option, since they give people the chance to sit where they like, in whatever groups they choose to, and to face one another or not. The more comfortable people are, the more likely they are to linger. And the more they can face one another, the more likely they are to enter into conversation.
It’s worth noting here that at least in some cultures – in Paris, long associated with the sidewalk café, and in London, often considered the birthplace of the pub – patrons of both cafes and pubs seem to be on the decline. The pace of modern life is a presumed culprit; in any case, those seeking to create god places for interaction must examine the possible barriers to meeting and interacting in a given community setting, and look for ways to surmount them.
- A mix of sun and shade, if the space is outdoors. Sun beckons in the late fall, winter, and early spring, but is too strong for many people in the warmer months, although umbrellas or canopies can help here.
- A mix of large and more intimate spaces. People need both places to be alone or to have private conversations with one or two other people, and places where many people can gather. The intimate spaces, at least in some cultures, may be the more important.
- Food and drink. Offering food and drink and a place to consume them is an obvious method of inducing people to spend time in a place.
- Pleasant or spectacular views. A quiet meadow with cows lying in the shade; blooming gardens backed by beautiful or unusual buildings; waves crashing on a rocky shore; the glass and steel towers of a modern city – people will happily spend their time gazing pleasing or dramatic vistas.
- Green space. We’re more apt to want to stay in a place where there are plants, whether it's a large park full of old trees, or a small garden. From our evolutionary beginnings, we’ve been conditioned to respond to green: greenery means water nearby, which means survival – animals to hunt, fruit and nuts to gather, water to drink. Although most of us no longer hunt down our main course, or climb trees for fruit, we still prefer to spend time in a place where there’s green visible.
- Water. Running water either actually cools the air or gives the illusion of doing so in hot weather, and its sound is calming. As mentioned above, water meant survival to our ancestors, and we still seek it out. A natural water feature, such as a stream or lake, can invite us to pause in a park; a fountain can have the same effect in a more confined space or indoors.
The Moors – North African Berbers who ruled much of what is now Spain for centuries – built fountains and other water features into the courtyards and gardens of their palaces to counter the effects of southern Spain’s hot, dry climate.
- Quiet amid the noise and hurry of a city. Paley and GreenAcre Parks, a few blocks apart in midtown New York City, offer not only oases of green and comfortable movable seating, but man-made waterfalls that drown out the noise of the surrounding streets.
- Interesting or pleasant places to walk. Sitting in one place is hardly the only way to use a space. Paths that seem to promise a new sight around each curve can draw visitors through a park. An interesting street scene pulls people along.
Walking may not seem interactive, but it often is. Many people prefer to walk with companions, often engaging in serious conversation. Parents walking with their children not only interact as a family, but may also meet other families that way – children can be less shy than adults about talking to strangers in safe situations. People walking alone will often take pleasure from meeting a friend, neighbor, or casual acquaintance by chance, and chatting briefly, or simply greeting them and moving on. And those who are dog owners also often find themselves making acquaintances who are interested in their pets.
- A mix of different kinds of things to see and do. Some spaces are meant for one specific purpose – quiet contemplation, viewing cultural events, or providing play possibilities for children, for instance. Other spaces retain people and promote interaction by offering a wide variety of activities – shopping, events, a lively street scene, food vendors, places to sit and people-watch, etc.
Good places for interaction feel safe and comfortable
People won’t use a space if they feel threatened by others who occupy it, or if they don’t feel safe in the neighborhood where the space exists. By the same token, they’re usually not interested in spending a lot of time in a place that’s dirty, dark, damp, cold, or full of loud and unpleasant noise, vandalized, or covered with graffiti.
Some of the elements that can help spaces feel safe for their users:
- The presence of a variety of individuals and groups. When people see families, singles, groups, and people of all ages and backgrounds using a space, they both assume it must be safe, and feel safe themselves, because of the presence of so many others.
- The presence of women. The Project for Public Spaces has found that women are more discriminating than men about the spaces they use, and that they’re far less likely to frequent places that aren’t safe, or that don’t feel safe.
- The presence of police or citizen patrols, or police call boxes. Police or citizen patrol presence doesn’t have to be huge or aggressive. If people know they’re there, they feel safer, and those who might cause trouble are less apt to do so.
- Proximity to busy streets or places of business. Having a place to retreat to easily, and knowing that there are people nearby, increases the sense of safety.
- Good lighting. A proven deterrent to crime, good lighting also adds to safety and to the attractiveness of a space and its usefulness for activities.
- Eyes on the street. Storefronts, offices, or residences with street level windows greatly increase the sense of safety and reduce the opportunity for crime.
- Safe areas for children to play. Areas where children are likely to play need to be reasonably safe for kids, rather than places where an unwatched two-year-old can easily drown, for instance, or where a fall from a swing or slide can result in serious injury.
Paving playground surfaces with recycled rubber rather than gravel or concrete is one method of making a play space safer without cutting down on fun and opportunities for kids to test themselves.
Some elements that can make spaces feel more comfortable:
- Cleanliness and visible maintenance. People are not likely to want to linger amid litter and graffiti. The cleaner a space is – and the more obvious it is that it’s kept clean – the more people will return to it.
In the case of a neighborhood park, playground, or other public space, if you enlist local teens to participate in the planning of the space, they might also act as volunteers in keeping it clean. If they see it as theirs, not only will they not vandalize it, but they’ll pick up after themselves, and keep others from vandalism.
- Lots of light, particularly natural sunlight (whether indoors or out). Like green space and water, light makes us feel good. Studies show that we respond positively to light in a number of ways, and spaces with lots of natural light are comfortable for us.
- Protection or screening from street traffic. A screen of trees or bushes, or a stone wall, even if they’re low, set a space off from traffic and make it feel more like a room. Greenery can also screen noise, as can setting a space back from the street.
- Comfortable furniture. Contoured chairs or benches are far more inviting than stone slabs to sit on. Indoors, upholstered couches or chairs encourage lounging more than straight-backed wooden chairs do. Tables imply that food and drink are welcome, providing another element of comfort.
Good places for interaction are welcoming and accessible to everyone
If people are going to use a particular space in any numbers, they have to feel that the space is intended to be used by people like them. That means that it has to be in a place they can easily get to, and that they feel welcome when they get there. Some indications that a space is in fact accessible and welcomes a wide variety of people:
- Visibility and a welcoming entrance. Does the space invite people in by being visible from the street, for instance? A garden with a high wall and narrow, gated entrance on the street side doesn’t look like a public space, whereas the same garden with a broad, open entranceway and a series of wide steps leading to it from the street gives the opposite impression.
- Handicap accessibility. If the space is at a different level from the sidewalk (or inside a building), is it easily reachable by someone in a wheelchair, or with limited vision? Ramps, paved or carefully smoothed pathways, and other accessibility features tell individuals with disabilities that the space is meant for everyone.
- Signs, plaques, statues, murals, etc. in a variety of languages and representing the diversity of the community. A park or community center in a diverse neighborhood should communicate that it belongs to everyone in that neighborhood. Signs in the languages that are spoken by residents as well as in English, murals showing people of many races and cultures, statues of important figures from the backgrounds of neighborhood residents, and the like tell residents of all backgrounds that this is their place, and that it’s for the use of the whole community.
- The ease with which the place can be reached. If it’s central, can it be easily reached by public transportation or bicycle from other areas of the community? Is it easily reachable on foot (e.g., not bounded on all sides by superhighways, and only safely reached by car)? If it’s a neighborhood facility, can it be reached on foot or by a short ride on public transportation by everyone in the neighborhood? Is there ample parking and bike storage?
- Ease of entry and passage. Is the place easy to get into, or to find your way into (signs or other means of pointing the way)? Unless it’s a room in a building or something similar, it should be easy to find your way in, out, and through. A park, for instance, might have a path that goes from one end to the other. A good space for interaction should have more than one entrance, and entrances shouldn’t be closed or locked at times when the place is open to use. There should be entrances from all parts of the area the space draws people from.
- Rest rooms, for obvious reasons, especially for parents with young children and for older adults.
- All parts of the space should be accessible and usable, to the extent possible. That means no “Keep off the grass” signs (except perhaps when it’s just been seeded, and then there should be an explanation attached), no places people can’t sit (unless they’re dangerous), no forbidden activities (unless they are anti-social).
Whether a space is being designed or completely redesigned by architects and engineers, or whether it’s an already-existing space that’s just getting a face-lift, it’s ideal if the intended users of the space are involved in the design process. They can explain what their wants and needs for use are, and they’re more likely to take advantage of and maintain the space if they have ownership of it from the beginning.
Some of the advantages of participatory design are that users can explain their patterns of social interaction (remember the need to include both large and intimate spaces; participants can explain how many of each, and where they might best go). They can suggest elements that would help draw others like them to the space (features that immigrants miss from their homelands, for instance, or picnic spaces with plenty of room for large extended families in one place). When different groups have different needs or desires, they can either find ways to include both, or, better yet, to combine them in some way, which might increase interaction between those groups at the same time.
In Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto, flower beds placed around the basketball courts have led to positive interactions among the adults who tend the flowers and the teens who play basketball.
Incentives and regulations
Understanding how to design a place so that it encourages interaction obviously isn’t enough. The planners and builders of those spaces have to want or agree to design them in that way. When the planners and builders are private developers or businesses, the municipality can provide incentives to persuade them to build spaces that are designed to support interaction, and can also create regulations that require them to do so. Both can be effective, although, when it’s financially possible, incentives are usually preferable. Because they’re positive, they create a partnership between the developer and the municipality, and the place that results is likely to satisfy the needs of both.
An incentive is a benefit given to someone in order to encourage him to do something specific.
Incentives available to communities to convince developers to include interactive space in projects include:
- Tax incentives. Communities, either themselves or through state and federal programs, can offer tax deductions, tax credits, or tax abatements to private concerns in return for the inclusion of certain kinds of spaces or features in a project.
- Subsidies and grants. Communities sometimes help developers or businesses include the features they want by providing financial support for those elements of the project. They might also apply for grants to use as subsidies for the same purpose.
- Variances and waivers. In exchange for particular design features, communities may grant developers or businesses the right to erect buildings or change landscapes in ways that would normally not be permitted by regulations. Some common waivers are for density (allowing a larger number of residential or business units than permitted in a particular area) and height (allowing a taller building than the height regulations specify).
- Speeding up or facilitating the permit process. Developers and builders need many permits in order to construct a project. By expediting or helping a developer with the process, a community can save the developer a great deal of time and money.
- Donation or use of public land. A community might give a developer a piece of unused public land, or the use of that land, in return for his turning part of it into a public space.
- Recognitions, ranging from expensive arrangements such as naming rights, to more modest recognitions such as names on a plaque. In public settings such as libraries, names of donors on a plaque are common in many communities. Variations of this concept include memorial benches or gardens, “adoption” of a piece of public property (with the adopter being responsible for maintenance), or simple listing of names in media releases or reports.
Using incentives to persuade developers and others to include socially desirable features in their projects is ideal, because it’s a win-win situation, and creates a partnership between the developer or business and the community. Incentives, however, are voluntary on the developer’s part, and they don’t always represent enough of a financial advantage to a developer who puts social benefits at the bottom of the list. For that reason, most communities institute regulations on building to ensure that certain minimum standards are met.
Regulations can be used in addition to, or instead of, incentives to make sure private developers and businesses include good spaces for interaction in their projects.
Some possible ways to approach this include:
- Requiring a percentage of the total area of a project to be given over to public space.
There are a number of ways to do this. The percentage could be based on the total square footage of building area; on the footprint of the building (i.e., the area of ground it covers); or on the total size of the lot, either including or excluding the building square footage. Public space might be indoors or outdoors, either by regulation, or at the discretion of the owner.
- Requiring that any new building over a certain size have a plaza or courtyard that includes seating, footpaths, and other specific features.
- Establishing design requirements that include specifications for interactive public spaces.
- Requiring that, for lots over a certain size, a specified amount of land is set aside as open space for public use, with further requirements for its design (seating, footpaths, etc.)
- Requiring gathering places as part of specific kinds of projects, such as senior housing.
For any or all of these, there may also be accessibility requirements, not only to comply with ADA regulations, but for the rest of the community as well. These requirements might include signs or other features making clear that the public is welcome, open gates, maintenance, etc.
Not all projects are carried out by private developers or businesses. A great deal of construction and renovation in communities is affected either by the community itself, or by another level of government.
A few of the many possibilities of regulation for public projects, besides those listed above, include:
- Design of parks, squares, and other public spaces that pays attention to the four principles discussed above which constitute good places for interaction: reasons to come, reasons to stay, comfort and safety, and accessibility and welcome. That means including seating, lighting, police presence, and other elements that make spaces safe and user-friendly.
- Infrastructure: the inclusion of bike paths, traffic screening, wide sidewalks, curb cuts, etc. in road design and as a part of roadway widening or reconstruction projects.
- Requirements for bridges: pedestrian walkways of particular width, overlooks, bike lanes.
- Building design that eliminates blank walls at street level, commercial driveways interrupting sidewalks, etc.
- Traffic regulation to encourage pedestrian activity in appropriate spaces: speed bumps, traffic lights, crosswalks, signage, etc.
In the case of publicly-owned spaces, the community may be able to take matters into its own hands. When a park is run down and the municipality can’t or won’t do anything about it, citizens can organize and take it upon themselves to change the situation. Many public parks, for instance have “Friends of...” organizations that raise money and recruit volunteers to take on projects or conduct routine maintenance. While the primary purpose of these citizen organizations is usually to supplement municipal maintenance, in some cases they may assume a good part of the maintenance themselves.
Volunteers might assume such tasks as tending plantings, cleaning up litter, cleaning and repainting benches or park buildings, sweeping walks, raking leaves, and staffing information kiosks. Fundraising can pay for seating, lighting, new buildings, playgrounds, sports fields, special events, and other amenities. A community effort might also be directed toward saving a building that’s beloved because it’s played a part in the life of the neighborhood, or because of its historic connections.
Community action accomplishes several purposes:
- It brings the community together, often across ethnic, racial, class, and cultural lines, creating the bridging social capital we referred to earlier, and creating a stronger sense of community
- It helps people understand that they have the resources within the community to solve many of their own problems, and gives them the motivation to do so
- It creates a foundation for tackling other issues, and for moving toward social change
- It establishes a base for advocacy when the community can’t do it alone
Many sections in the Community Tool Box stress the importance of advocacy. In this case, the purposes of advocacy would be to convince policy makers to adopt the kinds of incentives and regulations that will encourage private developers and businesses to incorporate good places for interaction into their projects; to gain improvements to a particular neighborhood site, or to all sites of a certain kind (parks, for instance); to publicize and enforce existing incentives and regulations; and to convince policy makers to adhere to or institute design requirements for public projects that encourage the development of good places for interaction..
Some basic guidelines:
Gather your forces
Here’s a great opportunity to assemble a group of people from diverse backgrounds, all of whom will be affected by what you’re advocating for. This could be a way to start a neighborhood action group, or it could grow out of one – either through a Friends organization, or through other volunteers you recruit.
Try to enlist some people with clout as part of your group. City councilors or state representatives may be willing to get involved on behalf of their constituents, or an influential business or other community leader may be just as concerned as you are about the situation, or just as interested in creating people-friendly spaces. Having some of these voices on your team will add to the power of your advocacy.
Do the organizing necessary to get the community behind the concept. Don’t expect that all you have to do is raise your banner and people will flock to it. You’ll have to have many face-to-face conversations, hold meetings in people’s living rooms and other places, and make contact with almost everyone in the neighborhood, or with key people in every part of the community (in the case of a community-wide effort) in order to convince people that they should join in an advocacy effort. They’ll need information about the issues involved, and an understanding of how they’re likely to be affected. They’ll also need to develop enough trust to know that their voices will be listened to.
Do your homework
Make sure you know as much as possible about the design of spaces for interaction, about the particular space you’re concerned with, about the benefits that interactive spaces can have for a community, etc. If you’ve done the background work, your group can make suggestions about what might be done with the space, what kinds of incentives and/or regulations might be useful, how they could be implemented, what their costs and benefits are likely to be, etc.
If there’s opposition to your plans, know how to counter it. Understand the arguments of those who oppose you, and be able to show why your ideas are better for the community. (If they’re not, why are you advocating for them?)
Get to know policy makers, legislators, and others who will have some control over whether your advocacy is successful or not
Councilors, legislators, planners, and their aides are the people who will make the decisions about the matters you’re concerned with. The better you know them, and the more you can talk with them face to face, the more apt they are to come around to your point of view.
The ideal is to find a champion among this group to help with her colleagues. She can sponsor legislation or municipal bylaws, hold hearings on the issue, and otherwise help to put together support among those who’ll make the decisions.
Choose your time carefully
Advocacy is much more likely to be successful at a time when your issue is in the public consciousness and when there’s a situation that brings it to the surface. All of the situations in the “When...?” part of this section could be prime times for advocacy.
Policy makers listen to public opinion, and public opinion is formed by the information that people have. The media – print, radio, TV, and online sources such as blogs and websites – are where most people get their information. If they report positively on the issues you’re concerned with, and include stories about how good places for interaction can benefit the community (embracing diversity, fulfilling neighborhood aspirations, etc.), the public will be aware, and inclined to view your advocacy favorably.
Offer your group’s help in coming up with solutions or ideas
If you’ve done your homework well, you and your group should be the authoritative voice on this issue. As such, you can be part of the solution, rather than simply raising a problem. Your argument is always more powerful if you have something positive to offer.
Depending on the situation, you can also offer the group’s help in implementing a solution. You could, for example, line up volunteers for maintenance, safety patrols, building or maintaining structures, etc. If the business community is an ally, you may have even more to offer.
To the extent possible, view your advocacy as positive, not adversarial
You and your group want to work in partnership with policy makers, developers, and others to establish places that are good for everyone. Your advocacy should be framed in terms of what it’s for, not what it’s against.
Keep at it indefinitely
Even after you accomplish what you set out to do, you have to maintain your gains. As soon as you stop paying attention, it’s more than possible that what you’ve worked for will disappear.
Maintain your gains, and continue to work for a community where every space is one where all community members can gather and mix.
Building a true community takes the establishment of trust, respect, and common purpose among groups and individuals of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds. One element of accomplishing this goal is the creation of spaces where people can come together and mix naturally, getting to know one another, or at least getting used to one another’s presence and style.
Such good community gathering places are places where people want to be, and are physically set up to encourage conversation and interaction. They provide reasons to go there and reasons to stay, feel safe and comfortable, and are accessible and welcoming to everyone. It’s to the benefit of any community or neighborhood to have as many of these natural gathering places as possible, since they allow not only for interaction, but for entertainment, cross-cultural learning and the establishment of inter-group harmony, and the building of neighborhood and community pride.
In addition to their social benefits, good places for interaction can also lead to economic development, in that they are often good places to do business as well. Well-planned public outdoor spaces act as magnets, but also as gateways, welcoming and leading people into and through neighborhoods and areas they might otherwise never have seen.
Good spaces for interaction depend first on design, and design depends, in turn on the needs and preferences of the people who’ll be using the spaces. Those people should, to the extent possible, be involved from the beginning in the design or redesign of public spaces.
Making sure that new private and public development, reconstruction or repair projects, park and open space management, etc. are designed with interaction in mind may involve incentives and regulations, economic and otherwise. Community organization may help residents to advocate for tax incentives, design regulations, and other methods to foster the creation of good places for interaction. Communities or neighborhoods may do best by organizing and using their existing assets to themselves design and create areas that meet their needs.
Action Guide for Building Socially Connected Communities provides a number of guides and resources to help address the needs of communities, as well as a broader six step process for helping to address a communities needs.
Contact Across a Diseased Boundary: Urban Space and Social Interaction During Winnipeg’s Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 by Esyltt W. Jones, from the Revue of the Canadian Healthcare Association, 2002. This article examines how interaction between middle and upper-class “nursing” volunteers and lower-class immigrant flu sufferers served in some ways to cement class, gender, and ethnic barriers, and in other ways to break them down.
Build Healthy Places Network's article Green Spaces Can Encourage Social Connectedness in Cities discusses the social benefits of urban green spaces.
"High Achievements" is an essay by Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia (where he cut down on parking and auto traffic, opened up pedestrian streets and bikeways, started a bus system that now carries a million people a day, built 150 schools, and planted 100,000 trees in three years) on why developing world cities, as well as others, need pedestrian spaces and transportation options not only for environmental and quality-of-life reasons, but as ways to narrow the social gap and increase equity.
Partners for Livable Communities is a national nonprofit organization working to restore and renew our communities with multiple ongoing programs and resources.
The Project for Public Spaces is an international organization based in New York dedicated to the development and preservation of great public spaces of all types. The Urban Parks Institute is a subsidiary organization of the Project for Public Spaces that deals specifically with parks in urban settings.
Rails to Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission it is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.
Winter Cities Toolkit - Explore tools and resources to creating more welcoming and inclusive winter cities and public spaces.
Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, NY: Vintage (1961). Shows how the city environment can be an excellent place for human interaction. Still a classic in the field, and deservedly so.
Morris, E. (2005). It’s a Sprawl World After All. Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers. Argues against metropolitan sprawl, which discourages social interaction, and proposes strategies to minimize it.
Oldenburg, R. (1989). The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day. New York, NY, Paragon House.
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Register, R. (2006). Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature. (Rev. Edn.) Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers. See especially Chapter 7; also has a good bibliography.
Whyte, H. (1980). The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington, DC: The Conservation Foundation. Uses multiple photographs to illustrate principles of urban design and social interaction.