Why we need neighborhood squares. Part 8: Joy

By Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard

Festivity and celebration are essential to human life.  They are an organizing and unifying force in the social life of the neighborhood. At traditional community festivals on a neighborhood square, friends and strangers, old and young work, eat, talk, dance and sing with one another.  Divisiveness and conflict are set aside; age and social barriers are diminished.

Eating and drinking together on the square is an essential part of any community festival. This provides opportunity for community members, including young people, to collaborate in preparing food, serving, and cleaning up, as well as celebrating together.

The collaborative energy and coordination that goes into organizing a festival is infectious. For children and youth participation in a festival marks their induction into the life of the community.  More than any other activity, community festivals provide the opportunity for children and young people to play valued roles, to display skill and strength, balance and teamwork, grace and stamina. Those who participated in previous years are role models, overseeing the festival and passing on skills and experience.  When they see their contribution increases the well-being of all, they feel included, and know they are highly valued by the community.

Musicians and other performers are valuable catalysts for social life, prompting spontaneous conversation among an audience of old and young.  Some performers encourage audience participation: jugglers throw a ball to a child; clowns enlist a member of the audience into their act; mimics turn unwitting passersby into performers, and thereby heighten the drama of urban social life.

Street entertainers demonstrate to children that adults have not lost their delight in the absurd, their ability to react spontaneously, to step out of themselves, to laugh at themselves - qualities that endear them to children and create a bond between young and old. 

On the wondrous Sabadell flashmob performance of Ode to Joy, that you can watch here, shared joy makes young children jump up and down with delight, and brings a broad smile on the face of an elder. Lovers kiss, friends gape in awe and grin, strangers catch each other’s eyes and smile, couples embrace, everyone applauds with heartfelt gratitude, and a toddler gurgles and reaches for the sky.

As we emphasize in Genius of the European Square, the public square is a catalyst for festivity and celebration.  The neighborhood square invites all to come together and to experience delight, laughter and joy that bind the community together.

Turn to: Principles for designing successful neighborhood squares