Why we need neighborhood squares: Part 1 - For sheer pleasure

By Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard

To be in the presence of others is reassuring. Perceiving their presence by looking, hearing and touching enables each of us to feel more human, more alive. Being acknowledged with a glance, a smile, even from a stranger, is heartwarming. A neighborhood square is an invitation to all to enjoy the feeling of being part of the extended family, the community.

Other people become a source of wonderment and fantasy. Where are they from? What do they do? Why are they here? Could I get to know them? Would we find something in common? 

People-watching is often done in the company of friends. Observing others creates a bond among onlookers and a basis for exchanging comments and judgments. Both men and women survey passers-by as potential partners, or simply enjoy watching attractive or interesting individuals. Older people observing the young are reminded of themselves, or perhaps pass moral or aesthetic judgment on them. But whatever the reaction, observation of life in public serves as a catalyst for memory and fantasy.

Many, especially the young, sit or walk on the square in order to be seen, to display a new or dramatic outfit, to impress an imagined or real audience.  They wish to be identified as a member of a group, or try out a special role. The neighborhood square is like a theater, where one may be both actor and audience.

Frequent use of the shops and cafes that line the square increases the opportunity to recognize others who also frequent the square.  Gradually, as strangers become familiar figures, a smile, a greeting, or a conversation may ensue. By inviting people to slow down, pause and enjoy the ambience, the square creates an oasis, away from the rush and impersonality of the workaday world. Like locally sourced and healthfully prepared “slow food”, we need places in our neighborhoods where we can pause and fully appreciate the experience of being in the moment, not amid a crowd of total strangers, but among neighbors who may, over time, become familiars, even friends.

A successful neighborhood square offers numerous topics for conversation: there may be a market on the square – an opportunity to share comments with strangers on the beauty of the flowers on sale. There may be children playing – a reason for a parent to talk with other parents about the huge attraction the water has for his kids. There may be an outdoor café – offering an excuse for someone at one table to discuss with a stranger at the next table the political news in the newspaper they are both reading… These shared experiences offer an impetus for conversation.

We are social creatures. Our greatest satisfactions in life derive from interacting with others in multiple ways – sharing experiences, arguing, gossiping, joking around, discussing serious issues, and laughing together. There is nowhere better for this than the neighborhood square.

Turn to Part 2: Generating Community