Public Spaces of Diverse Publics

A recent discussion brought up the apparent lack of public space in the city where we can see the spectrum of cultures and classes interacting, or at least occupying the same spaces. Findlay Market was cited as one example. In this sense Findlay is great because it has something for everyone and it is acceptable for anyone to be there for a lot of different purposes. Many of the vendors accept “foodstamps” and credit cards, sell soul food and gourmet there are places to sit, people watch, eat, shop, enjoy public arts and more.

The idea of “thirdspaces” is a buzz word in planning and design circles. The basic idea is that they are the places that we occupy when we are not at work or at home. While they may not be public in the traditional sense of the word they are public in the sense that they do not explicitly exclude anyone. This contemporary nature of public space is a blessing and a curse. While they may not explicitly exclude anyone some people are just not desirable, and there for intentionally left out of programming.

One criticism I hear a lot about the progress happening in Downtown and OTR is that they seem to appeal only to a certain demographic. I agree that often little is done to mediate between the seemingly disparate groups in Cincinnati.

Fountain Square is often cited as an example where the tenants and events seems directed at a targeted groups. I have had experiences in Fountain Square that counter this notion of homogeneity, but I think it is a reasonable claim. The “plaza” in front of P&G is a notorious examples of a private public space.

I understand that it is important to draw people to these places so they can see for themselves that worthwhile things are going on and these people very little would be going on.

But I want to know if there can be more of an attempt to create public spaces, traditional or contemporary, that foster more diverse uses, users and possibilities for interaction. Could a more deliberate attempt be made and still capture the range of people this city should be accommodating. Or are we just all that different?

Maybe these are already in existence and I am overlooking them. I have heard of others, but tell me what you think.



Filed under Cincinnati, public space

7 responses to “Public Spaces of Diverse Publics

  1. The Main Library downtown is a good example. It offers so much for free — a warm and safe place to hang out, computer use, books, magazines, a good selection of DVDs, videotapes, and CDs, plus tons of free events that go beyond books.

    As for private thirdspaces, Kaldi’s sort of fits the bill. I think that’s due to its location, lack of similar nearby options, and the fact that it offers coffee, food, alcohol, and sometimes music. It fulfills a lot of needs at different times of the day. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can sit and read one of their books, which is a pretty low-overhead way to spend your time.

    As far as programming in Fountain Square is concerned, I hope that, as more people regard it as a place to spend their time, events will become more diverse, inclusive, and impromptu, rather than targeted toward specific groups. Also, you had mentioned the issue of reurbanization in an earlier post. Maybe the challenge right now is simply to get more people to hang out on the Square? Not many people live in the immediate vicinity, and there’s not always that much to do around there. It’s hard to give people a compelling reason to spend time there, aside from programming events that attract them. Of course, if people do start to hang out, there may be concern about who they are and what they’re doing.

    This summer, I want to walk down to the Square on a Saturday afternoon to find jugglers, a percussionist, handmade jewelry, deep-fried goetta, people playing dominoes, and a group protesting… something. Nothing programmed, nothing targeted, just a spontaneous bunch of activity for anyone to enjoy.

  2. justforview

    Yeah, yeah. The library is a good example. I like going up the magazine section. Not sure about now, but before it was in the skybridge, and there were always a nice random assortment of people doing various things. People on lunch breaks from construction jobs, office jobs reading the NY Times or taking a nap…

    I agree about Fountain Square. Hopefully the programing brings people in and gradually it will become more diverse and spontaneous. But there seems to be a trend to be more programmatic in public spaces like this nationwide. But there is also a lot of research into the benefits of temporary and unplanned events.

    Pop-up is an interesting project in Cleveland, not so much for Fountain Square, but certainly other sites around town.

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