Sense of place: Traverse City needs an ‘SOB Square’
Guest Writer: Lee Maynard
Setting the Sense of Place as Places with People
“There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.”–Edward Abbey
Traverse City’s strong local energy, natural beauty and ever-increasing ‘coolness’ is inspiring. As the State motto goes: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” This is the most beautiful place on earth.
Poet Gary Snyder also expresses it well:
You “hear histories of the people who are your neighbors and tales involving rocks, streams, mountains and trees that are all within your sight. The myths of world-creation tell you how that mountain was created and how that peninsula came to be there. This knowledge provides the skills to take the pulse of place and foster its health.“
The Sense of Place concerns the creatures you meet on daily travels. The water you drink. The trails you hike. Stories are accessible to everyone; gradually accumulated & discovered over a lifetime. A commons.
Unfortunately, as a nation, we have largely lost touch with the particular knowledge of particular places, and the result is the place-less sprawl of Anytown, USA (South Airport Rd. comes to mind).
A vision I carry for Traverse City is a mish-mash integrating local culture with the cool places, and people, that I have learned from. Places like Portland, Denver, Hilton Head Island, Washington, D.C., Ohio, Georgia, New York, Texas, Michigan, Australia, New Zealand, and, hopefully, Denmark.
Thinking about a Sense of Place, I kept coming back to public squares. Squares stole the spotlight as my topic for this post. Public Squares, to my surprise, beat out topics such as nearby nature, parkland (large and vest-pocket size), urban green space, community gardens, and conservancy trails. Why? Because Traverse City could use a square or a pedestrian street.
Cities and towns around the world are losing their heart and soul. Or, fighting hard to bring them back. Public squares are part of that development.
“What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.”- William H. Whyte
Inspired by Whyte, author of The Social Life of Public Spaces, I observed Victoria Square in Christchurch, New Zealand for 12 weeks. As unobtrusively as possible, using participant observation, I watched people and used hand written notes, photography and maps to chart the use of space by people.
This is a great exercise. What you find is, that although spaces are deemed ‘public‘ people are not permitted to behave or use the space freely due to social constraints. We model our behaviors according to others; this creates social norms). When a behavior violates a social norm, it can create conflict in the space.
Although I studied Victoria Square, I lived my social norms in SOL Square just down the road from Victoria Square in Christchurch, New Zealand. SOL Square stands for “South of Lichfield” Street. It’s a very popular place to shop, dine or just hang out having a few drinks. It’s a kind of spot that people are surprised to find in Christchurch (by New Zealand standards, Christchurch is thought as being a very conservative city).
Bringing it Home
In Traverse City, when I pass by the backside of our downtown buildings, I imagine having this kind of cool public art as well as a ‘SOB Square’–a square South of the Bay, for our own. A place filled with live music, buskers, a gigantic fireplace, old couches and bean bags line an alley 24/7 in SOL Square. I frequently imagine how cool this kind of set up would be outside of Union Street Station along that alley…
I imagine the space (which includes the street) between Right Brain, Kilkinney’s, North Peak and the Bus Depot as having potential to eventually become a SOL SOB Square for Traverse City…(Woonerf like).
Please share your thoughts, visions and any wacky ideas you imagine for the places where you live. Nothing is impossible.
My favorite website about public squares (and more): Project for Public Spaces
GUEST WRITER: Lee Maynard grew up swimming, building forts and climbing trees with lots of pets in Athens, GA. Her family escaped the heat every summer on Bois Blanc Island (Boblo), Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac; her favorite place on earth. She majored in Recreation, Park & Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University and studied The Environment, Society and Design for graduate school at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand. After crashing with friends in Chicago and Portland she moved to Traverse City last June. She absolutely loves her job working for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy as an Engagement Specialist and living Up North. According to Deering’s Meat Market gossip, she has a “wafty” bike riding reputation and does not pay careful enough attention while cruising around town. She’ll try to improve on that and says, “sorry y’all!”…she says she is nervous and honored to write for MyWHaT…whatever…we love guest writers; the honor is all ours.
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