Strasbourg, for centuries considered the “Crossroads of Europe”, is located in the Alsace Region of France, close to Freiburg. In the Middle Ages, it’s function as an important European meeting place was expressed in the innumerable squares and market places that supported international exchange. Today, Strasbourg’s unique identity finds expression in its role as seat of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

Of special note for making cities livable are the major improvements in livability that Strasbourg has achieved in the last 15 years, including its exemplary light rail system that runs through the city center and out to suburban areas, and the city’s wealth of traffic-free squares within a fine-grained, mixed-use urban fabric. In 1994, IMCL awarded Strasbourg the IMCL City of Vision Award. We are proud to work with the City of Strasbourg to bring participants to this city for the "Cities of Vision Study Tour" to learn from Strasbourg’s continuing leadership in these aspects of livability.

The City of Freiburg is often called Germany's "ecological capital" and has been recognized internationally as one of the world’s most livable, sustainable and child-friendly cities. In 1993, IMCL awarded the City of Freiburg the IMCL City of Vision Award. Since then, Freiburg has received numerous awards for its leadership in sustainable transportation planning, promotion of walking and biking, traffic calming mechanisms, human scale mixed-use development, renewable energy, protection of nature, and sustainability. Today, we are proud to work with the City of Freiburg to further disseminate the innovations and improvements in livability and sustainability the City has achieved in recent years by organizing the 2013 City of Vision Study Tour to Freiburg, September 27 – October 4, 2013.

Congratulations to IMCL Board Member Charlie Hales who won a clear victory as Portland’s next Mayor! Charlie has a passion for livable and lively cities, and a profound belief in social and cultural equity.

What would it take to create a neighborhood where, as a child you can play on your street and around your block, where you know by name people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and abilities because you meet them and talk with them on your way to school on foot or by bike? How can we create a neighborhood where, as an adult, you can walk or take public transit to work, to the movies or to go on vacation, and you have innumerable friends and activities within a few minutes’ bike ride? And how can we create a neighborhood where as an elder, you still have neighborhood friends you knew since childhood, neighbors stop by to check all is well if they don’t see you at your usual haunts, and you still enjoy a high quality of life because you can walk or take your power wheelchair the short distance to the coffee house, the grocery store, the doctor, to play chess in the park, or to visit your grandchildren?

This is what neighborhoods used to be like. We killed that diverse, independent and community-spirited quality of life when we created car-dependent suburban housing.  But visionary efforts are under way to revive complete neighborhoods hospitable for people at all stages of life, and abilities.

Most successful city squares in the US are programmed with a variety of activities throughout the year – festivals, markets, food, music, and cultural events.

There is another type of urban square that is economically and socially more sustainable because it is self-programmed. It does not require a full time manager to organize special events. The primary social function of this type of square is to support dialogue, be a catalyst for informal social interaction and familiarity among local citizens, foster inclusive community and civic engagement, and generate commerce. This type of square, while common in Europe, is virtually unknown in North America.

Where you live affects your health and life expectancy. A report released in September by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projects that obesity rates in 13 States will be over 60% by 2030.

It is high time for us to put to good use the technical mapping data that identify by census tract where the greatest levels of physical and social ill health exist, and to finally apply life-rescue operations for neighborhoods most in need.

Until the nineteenth century, a square or plaza was a hard surfaced open space between buildings, a place for contact with our fellow human beings in exchange, dialogue, debate, play and democratic decision making. Parks belonged to the nobility and were for recreation and contact with nature. The confusion began in the 19th century when market squares were refashioned into gardens.

No wonder that today, when a square or a plaza is created in America, it turns out to be a squark!

The idea is simple. People who live close – within a 10 minute walk – to grocery stores, transit lines, parks, and other essential services, can more easily minimize environmental impacts and maximize a healthy lifestyle. Making choices that benefit one’s self and society at large should be a real option, not a constant battle against the mainstream. It seems only natural that the way we construct urban environments should conform to the principle of practical proximity.

Plaza San Martín de Tours is by no means the most celebrated square in Buenos Aires. Historically, political unrest has expressed itself in the Plaza de Mayo, which sits directly in front of Argentina’s Pink House, the seat of federal power. In the San Telmo neighborhood, the Plaza Dorrego boasts one of the most vibrant open air markets in the world. Yet, while these other squares serve as sights of extraordinary events, Plaza San Martín de Tours, situated at the intersection of bustling thoroughfares, hosts an occurrence of understated importance: the everyday gatherings of everyday people.

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