City Hearts: Squares, streets and Urban Spaces

Written by  Joseph

The best cities are serendipitous, formed from layers upon layers of chaos, not all of them visible. No matter how meticulous the urban planning, there must be a rebel element to bring it to life - and that is the people. They are a city’s greatest variable, and its best asset. A city’s architecture must always be conscious of this fact, whether it is designed to embrace or exploit citizens. As people are social creatures, squares, streets and other urban spaces form vital meeting places. Out there, each of their individual stories collide and electrify the city.

This is not always apparent to the visitor. The city is often boiled down to a list of sightseeing spots to be checked off, while unfamiliar streets are a hazard to be braved. There is nothing wrong with this, but a little exploration off the beaten path can take you a very long way (Shomben Yokocho). In many cities, especially the most densely populated, life has no choice but to spill out onto the streets when the alternative is being cooped up in a broom cupboard flat.

Famous city spaces tend to become landmarks. Personally, I have little love for these spots. Sure, the buildings may be spectacular (Piazza San Marco), but swarmed with tourists (all taking the same snapshots as you), they lack proper context. Fortunately, some spaces have been able to hang onto their identity (Harajuku) allowing visitors to mix with locals, and because cities are always in flux, new and exciting areas are always popping up.

As the great Italian writer Italo Calvino once wrote of cities: “Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, buried, erased.”. As you walk through a city, you are following in the steps of countless others before you, who have shaped what you see (Kabukicho). A city’s architecture is just its face: its heart and soul lie in its people, and there’s no better place to find them than out and about in the squares, streets and urban spaces.

More Great Urban Spaces

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