activating common sense in the city

An entry in the new series, depicting the common sense dimensions of urban places



Around the world, the sit-able city (a new term that I termed here last October for an age-old concept) increasingly surrounds us, whether installed to honor ongoing, traditional cultural norms, or interposed more aggressively on an experimental basis to encourage safe participation in downtown life.

The above two images show, sequentially, each installation alternative, first, in Porto, Portugal, and, second, in Seattle, Washington.

Do the relative purposes of the benches, tables and chairs shown here really matter, as much as the results themselves? After all, the scenes seem to show use-as-intended, whatever the purpose.

I suggest that there is a distinction, with lessons learned.

While the first, Portuguese image shows a modern moment in a long-term way of life, the second, Seattle example reflects a more portable undertaking; part of a recent, purposeful activation of downtown space, a joint effort of the City and the Downtown Seattle Association.

Some would champion this Seattle example as another instance of a tactical urbanism intervention, and call it a day. But I think a more fundamental point merits an ironic mention.

There is often nothing new in common sense human endeavors, planned or otherwise. What will work going forward is, very simply, often what has worked before.

Images composed by the author in Porto, Portugal, in May 2012, and, in Seattle, Washington, in July, 2014. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2014 myurbanist.  All Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

For more information on the role of personal experience in understanding the changing city, see Urbanism Without Effort, an e-book from Island Press.

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