|Conspiracies are much better when accompanied by graphics.|
Politics and conspiracy theory aside, how is this influenced by urban design? Political protests around the globe follow an easy recipe. The aggrieved parties go to their most important shared civic space and make their voices heard. These are places like Tahrir Square, Tiananmen Square, Gamal Abdel Nasser Sqaure, Triumfalnaya Square, Zuccatti Park (formerly Liberty Plaza). Note that these places were not designed for the single purpose of staging protests. These civic spaces were designed to accommodate a broad range of peaceful and productive community activities and to serve ceremonial purposes as well. Regardless of the purpose, most communities have an understanding of where the citizenry gathers for purpose, their communal center. If you take a broad view of human history, you could argue that the primary purpose of the city is to serve that function.
For a moment, forget all of the myriad problems created by the suburbanization of our country save communal gathering. The current model of the American city is in no way conducive to the spontaneous (or even planned) gathering of the community in a single place that has a shared value to the community**. In that sense, our cities have failed to fulfill what is perhaps their primary purpose. Yet another failing of the sub-urban model.
Lest you think I am all doom and gloom, there are indeed cities in our country that defy that model in terms of communal space. Chattanoogans happen to be some of the fortunate few living in such a place. If there came a time for Chattanoogans to protest or revolt (I am not encouraging protests or revolutions, this is purely a “what if?”) how do our current land use patterns support that activity? Will the revolution be televised from the Kohl’s at Eastgate Town Center? Will the masses gather in the Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy parking lot at Hamilton Place? Of course not. Our community knows that downtown is our community gathering place. Fortunately, those communal gatherings have been (mostly) peaceful events centered around
|Pissed Chattanoogans? No, Chattanoogans getting pissed!|
Thirty years ago, the Design Studio had a dual-goal in an effort to aid the rebirth of our downtown. The first was return to the river, the birthplace of our city, our “front porch”, Ross’s Landing. The second was to reestablish a “heart” of the city, Miller Plaza. Both of those places are generous, accessible communal gathering places. They are essentially the two “go to” venues for community activities. Yet, if our community was to protest something (again, not advocating, merely musing), I don’t believe we would use either of these places (although I seem to remember the TEA party having a shin-dig at the riverfront). For my money the best protest site in town would be Miller Park.
|I don't think Ross's Landing is a good place to protest. it's |
hard to stay angry in a beautiful place right next to a river.
Why would protesters chose Miller Park over Miller Plaza? Despite the fact that it has an almost bucolic, oasis-like feel at times, the Park has just enough of an edge of modernist austerity to make it protest-worthy. The Park is also sandwiched in-between two imposing institutional buildings- focus points for objectors. On the other hand, the Plaza has a more human-scaled design that just doesn’t seem congruent with righteous indignation…it’s a happy place.
|Now that's a place where I can get pissed!|
On the macro level, what remains to be seen is whether these national protests will prove to be the American Autumn following the Muslim Spring or if this was just a bunch of slackers angling to get a free Radiohead concert. Closer to home, we need to be continuing our discussion on civic priorities and on the stewardship of our inherited environment.
**Note, this is not a conspiracy theory that the powers that be influenced the development patterns of our country to deprive the masses of a suitable place to protest…or is it…