Yesterday, one of our interns was raving to me about a book he recently discovered about the design of public spaces: Jan Gehl's Life Between Buildings. I didn't previously know about this book, but it's immediately clear that it was visionary and continues to influence people-friendly designs and thinking about the public realm. Since we're WalkBoston, Phil highlighted this excerpt for me (emphasis added):
It is important that all meaningful social activities, intense experiences, conversations, and caresses take place when people are standing, sitting, lying down, or walking. One can catch a brief glimpse of others from a car or a train window, but life takes place on foot. Only "on foot" does a situation function as a meaningful opportunity for contact and information in which the individual is at ease and able to take time to experience, pause, or become involved.I love this so much, both because it's something I believe and because it's something I experience. My whole life is changed by the neighborhood I live in, and my relationship to my neighborhood relies on my moving around it on foot on a regular basis. I know more neighbors than I would if I only traveled by car. I have casual, incidental contact with people I know at varying levels of intimacy, and each one improves my day, even on the grouchy ones!
I recently used the T stop exit farther from my house so I could finish a conversation with my friend before we went to our homes (in opposite directions from the square). As I crossed the plaza that sits above the T station, I ran into a group of friends who were hanging out. I have since resolved that when the weather is nice, I should always take the long way out of the T station on the off chance that I'll run into folks in the plaza by doing so.
I figure that when I'm 70, I'm more likely to remember and value that happy moment of unexpected socializing than getting home a couple of minutes earlier.