In the Washington Post today, columnist Marc Fisher discusses the birth of a community gathering place in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of D.C. The county government cleared a downtown area a couple years ago in preparation for a big and expensive redevelopment scheme featuring an ice rink, civic building, and veterans memorial. The 35,000 square foot site has been covered with inexpensive artificial grass and citizens of all ages are using it as a meeting place and an area to play games and have family picnics.
Now that the government wants to go ahead and put up its fancy structures on the grass area, citzens are saying essentially “wait a minute, we kinda like this impromtu community gathering place, we don’t want to see it go.” One young person said the current place is such a success because it is “unprogrammed.”
I’m no expert, but I suspect that much urban planning has been poor because planners and politicians fall in love with pristine architectural sketches of grand new projects, and don’t spend much time actually observing how citizens use the streets, buildings, roads, and environment.