Parks/Community Settings That Promote Successful Social Life
Darius Muñiz & Dimitri N. Syros
New York University
We observed this setting between the hours of 12 noon and 1pm, which we believed since it was around lunch time, would give us the richest amount of data on human interactions. Union Square’s borders include 14th Street to the south which is lined with an expanse of stairs at its center. Union Square West is home to the farmer’s market, which encompasses booths selling fruits, vegetables and other miscellaneous goods. 17th Street is on the parks north side, where the playground is located, more booths and tents selling goods and where the public restrooms reside. Finally Union Square East links together Broadway and Park Avenue South where there is a newsstand at its center and the other side of the street is also lined with café’s, restaurants, and stores. This square was alive with pedestrian traffic on all sides of its borders and throughout the inside of the park. We observed people sitting on the steps talking, people playing chess on portable chairs and tables, people shopping in the farmers market, and couples sitting on the benches. Due to these observations, this setting encompassed features that we deemed successful in promoting social life.
This setting was observed also between the hours of 12 noon and 1pm to capture what we believed would be a good representation of the day’s inhabitants. Foley Square is bordered on its north side by Worth Street and is where the actual park aspect of the square is located encompassing a central walkway lined with benches, trees, and lights. Centre Street is on its east side which is a barren sidewalk and is lined with court houses across the street. Lafayette Street is on its west side which has a barren sidewalk like its east side and is lined with an empty construction site across the street. The square has a large fountain at its center with a small row of steps. This square was the complete opposite of our first setting Union Square. The majority of people observed were just passer thru’s on their way either to the subway or heading to some other location using the square as a thruway. Due to these features and the observed social interactions we have deemed this setting as being unsuccessful in promoting social life.
Key Features Promoting Successful Interactions
Following one of the key features emphasized in “social life of small urban spaces” that promote social interaction, Union Square has ample sitting space. The south side of the square is lined with an expanse of stairs at its center spanning nearly from the east side of the square to the west. There are rows of benches lining every walkway that traverse through the park leading in every direction and these walkways are accessible from any side of the park. Another key element of a successful park is it’s over or under use of park space (Whyte, 1988). During our observation we walked every available walkway, sidewalk, and path that Union square had to offer. We noticed that most of the park space was well utilized in that inhabitants would create industry with the parks open spaces such as the farmers market or the portable tables and chairs used by the chess players. Interdependence is demonstrated by this reciprocal process in which inhabitants adapt to the features of the setting and in turn features of the setting are determined by the inhabitants (Kloos, 2011). Moos, 1973 states that the geographical make up of a setting promotes the amount of behavior settings that are available within that setting. For instance the open spaces on the west and north side of the park allow for make shift booths to sell certain goods and this in turn attracts the kind of people that want to buy those goods. This adds to the appeal of wanting to come to this park, promoting an increasing amount of possible social interaction. Another feature of promoting social interaction suggested in Whyte’s film is the available lighting and prevalence and positioning of trees. We noticed that Union Square had numerous amounts of street lamps positioned all around the parks open spaces and walkways. Trees were amply dispersed along sidewalks, throughout the body of the park next to benches and provided an atmosphere of nature within the city. Another feature of this park was the fact that it is surrounded by streets on all four sides and that on the opposite sides of the streets the blocks are filled with café’s, stores, and restaurants. Also an important feature is the prevalence of subway entrances at three locations within the park. It’s this feature we believe allows for the constant influx of possible participants to be exposed to the parks many behavior settings and in turn reinforces the organizational structures of these behavior settings (Moos, 1973).
Foley Park was the complete opposite of Union square in that it contained some of the same features but did not promote successful social interactions. This square contained a considerable amount of under use of space (Whyte, 1988). First, the sitting space was nonexistent on the squares south side with an open space of sidewalk, which we deemed fitting since all we seen people do is walk through this area to get to other destinations. For lighting, there were two street lamps oddly place in close proximity to each other in between two small trees that lined the outskirts of the sidewalk. A feature outlined in Whyte’s “social life of small urban spaces” which was the use of water, was present at Foley Square in the form of a fountain. This fountain served a dual purpose of both an aesthetic sculpture and a sitting space by its ledges and the small steps at its base. Three of the six people that we observed were found at this fountain sitting on its ledge eating lunch. The north side of the Square contained the actual park area and was a much better use of park space. There were lamps lining the walkways and benches besides those. Small grass areas were partitioned behind the lamps and benches and tall trees encompassed the expanse of this particular space. Whyte’s film suggests that this type of environment would be inviting for social interaction but somehow this park, according to our observation, has failed to entice the everyday milieu inhabitant that Moos, 1973 suggests would be found in specific behavior settings. We would expect since the Square is found in the government sector that the square would be more utilized by professionals indigenous to the area. This was not the case though in which the Square was inhabited by construction workers, a tourist, and a casual couple. This square also has a subway entrance like Union square and is surrounded on all sides by open streets. The difference is that instead of café’s, shops, and restaurants this square is surrounded by government buildings, construction sites, and court houses. We have concluded that not only the utilized park space is important in promoting social interaction, but that a parks social interaction is greatly impacted by its surrounding structures in that the park draws its inhabitants from amongst these organizational structures (Moos, 1973).
For Foley Square we observed behavioral regularities in that the three construction workers were utilizing the fountain space as a place to eat their lunches and social regularities in that they were using the space to talk amongst themselves until they went back to work. The couple we observed was sitting talking to each other utilizing the parks space to relax further displayed behavioral and social regularities you would expect to see in that type of environment. Union Square on the other hand was rich with social interaction amongst its inhabitants. We observed numerous couples taking lunch in the park demonstrating behavioral and social regularities promoted by the parks location and atmosphere. We considered the people we observed in the farmers market to exhibit behavioral regularities of shoppers going to a place to buy goods, social regularities by the exchange of services of people who took the role of either buyer or seller, and perhaps programmatic regularities by the buyers who by overt conversations and exchanges with the sellers we deemed frequented the market ritualistically. We observed chess players who also fit this triple category displaying behavioral regularities of partaking in the tournament of chess, social regularities by interacting with a distinct type of person that is drawn to playing chess, and programmatic regularities for the fact that a lot of these chess players frequently make this a routine of their weekly lives. For our brief observation we distinguished among the casual lunch taking couple, the shoppers and sellers, and the chess players. The casual couples pretty much kept to themselves and would interact with the markets sellers if they needed to buy something. The chess players didn’t interact with the casual couples at all but interacted with the market sellers presumably for the same reasons as the couples. We established that the market sellers acted as the mediators between most other behavior settings within the park and was the only group that wasn’t primarily restrained within its behavior setting.
Social Regularities & Environmental Features
For Foley Square the regularities we observed were promoted by the squares use of water through its fountain as suggested as important in Whyte’s social life film. The benches and park space, though limited, promoted social interaction by a couple. The squares majority barren and open spaces failed to promote extensive social interactions and from our observation were mainly utilized as a thruway, which we thought probably fit the average milieu inhabitant of the area of a high paced always on the move individual that was on their way to some official appointment or government job due to the square’s surrounding structures of being located within the government sector. Union Squares farmers market and its buyers and sellers were made possible by the open spaces that were available on the west and north side of the park and by the demand of a market that is promoted by a vibrantly inhabited and traversed park. This particular setting within a setting is shaped by the like minded, business oriented individuals that wanted to use the high traffic area to run a business. The couples are attracted to the park due to its benches, tree induced shade, and overall aesthetic atmosphere that open spaces and park defined features promote. A little getaway within a large city and numerous amounts of diverse people moving to and fro from busy and time consumed lives. Finally the chess players are attracted to the open spaces on the south side of the square which is an area that is friendly for opening up portable tables and chairs and is rich with potential opponents passing by. Together all these features of Union Square interact to create an atmosphere that the ideal social settings for differing reasons for people of differing and diverse backgrounds. This square is a unique place where the multitude of different or like personalities can come and enjoy each other’s specific behavior settings or just inhabit their own personal space and world. That’s the beauty and genius of the features of Union square, everything is available but in the end this setting promotes choice.
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