A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Social Life of Congress Square

In their pitch to the City Council, the architect for the Eastland Hotel's development proposal for Congress Square included a number of points from William H. Whyte's book "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces," a brilliant empirical study of what makes successful city parks work.

There's a great film version of "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" that illuminate Whyte's theories with detailed footage of New York's Seagram Plaza circa 1980. It's a lot of fun to watch, and not just because it offers a filmed version of the people-watching that attracts us to good parks. Whyte's observations and photography also brilliantly illuminate how subtle elements of design — things most of us don't consciously notice — can have tremendous impact on how public spaces are used.

Any Portlanders interested in Congress Square and its future should treat themselves to spending an hour with this film. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

New proposal for Congress Square

My colleague Randy Billings has a good write-up of the Eastland Hotel's updated plan for Congress Square Park, including a couple of renderings.

I want to withhold most judgment until I see more details of the plan, but my first impression is that this is at least a big improvement over the last proposal we saw last summer — and probably an improvement over the status quo. It looks like the main question for the city now will be whether we want to hold out (and pay) for something better.