The other day, half a million plastic balls bounced down the Spanish Steps, one of Rome's most visited and historic public places. Many visitors, picture-takers and members of the media were caused to wonder 'what's up with all these balls?'
Houston or Holland? The rapidly growing suburbs of Madrid uncomfortably (and instructively) amalgamate some of both. I was lucky to receive a recent tour from David Cohn, a long-time colleague and 20-year resident of Madrid; Sylvia Perea, a post-doctoral student and, until recently, an editor at the journal Arquitectura Viva, and Emilio Ontiveros, a young architect of the local Research Group on Social Housing.
“We underwrite fun,” says Naomi McCleary, Manager of arts for the Waitakere City Council, one of the municipalities that make up the Auckland (New Zealand) metropolitan region. She is referring to the practice of involving artists in the thinking and creation of public places, buildings, streets, bridges; they take an equal seat at the table from conception to completion. According to Ms. McCleary, the results are remarkable. Fun is a partner of beauty and happiness, it is a means toward the creation of objects and places that are beautifully usable. Around the world it is possible to find municipalities that are underwriting this kind of fun, but for every found opportunity, we have several more that are lost.
(Prefatory musing: As the title implies, this is Part 1 in a series. I haven't yet mapped out any of the other parts, but considering the boundless errata that clutter American cities, I anticipate little trouble finding objectionables to raise my ire next time my monthly deadline approaches. I welcome my fellow Interchangers to follow suit.)
At Project for Public Spaces, Inc. we think successful public spaces are the key to the future of cities. By “successful spaces” we mean spaces that are used, but what we find more often than not, in the centers of cities, are some very bad spaces – meaning that they are pretty much devoid of opportunities to do anything – even though they look good. We have also found that the least successful spaces and buildings are often the newest ones.