Several concurrent trends drive the increasing importance of our public places and open spaces, including water resource management, climate change, increasing urbanization, population growth, economic competitiveness—and even alarming increases in economic disparities.
Michael Sandel, Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard coined the term “skyboxification” to describe the physical and social disassociation of the wealthy from traditionally public forums that provided a setting for civil discourse. Aristotle and others have posited that civil discourse is the critical foundation for democratic governance and civic life.Where can people of different incomes and backgrounds be enticed to interact or, at least, co-exist? Parks, streets, recreation centers, and libraries
are among the types of public places that, if sited, designed, and managed well, can bring people together and encourage civil discourse. The role of the public realm in facilitating a democratic, pluralistic society cannot be underestimated. Public spaces—and even, the internet—provide important opportunities for people of different backgrounds to interact and learn the complex tools and concerns of civic discourse. Sitting in a park, or ambling down a street, watching and chatting with strangers may seem idle, but it is important work.
Unfortunately, public places often discourage social integration. Design that achieves the lofty, yet necessary, goal of encouraging civic discourse is a process. We at WRT specialize in that process, from site prioritization analysis to civic engagement to shepherding design that encourages social integration and cohesion among diverse people.