You know, one of the things that's glaringly missing in many communities, at least in this neck of the woods, is a "public space" - that mix of shared commonality, a bit of urban grit, human scaled, "being-ness". The Europeans seem to have that down, with their piazzas, squares, circles and places (OK, I'm butchering this, but that's pronounced platz-es). The Piazza San Marco in Venice, or the Place de la Concorde in Paris are beautifully jammed with people most times of the year.
All communities need places for people to meet, to gather, to rest, to chat, to people watch. In this nation we've given over a lot of that to the shopping mall - a poor excuse for a public space with its banality, its urging to excessive consumption, bad lighting and bad food.
We were visiting Vancouver BC a couple of weeks ago; last year we were in Seattle. Both cities have glorious public markets complete with places to gather with a friend or allow your little one (or yourself!) to chase pigeons or snarf down an ice cream. Public spaces like these markets are instant people-attractors and make cities ever so much more livable. Think about Millennium Park in Chicago and how it draws folks in - beckons them to stay awhile, to gaze at the fantastic Cloud Gate sculpture, (http://www.millenniumpark.org/artandarchitecture/cloud_gate.html)or the "face" fountain (http://www.millenniumpark.org/artandarchitecture/crown_fountain.html)- it provides a massive, at-grade fountain for kids to splash in and for adults to cool concrete-beaten feet. Think about the Capitol Square in Madison WI where on Saturday mornings the entire square is packed with one of the best Farmer's Markets in the nation (http://www.dcfm.org) and the lawn of the capitol is strewn with families and people of all ages enjoying the best of organic and locally grown foods and other products. It enlivens you and makes you smile and gives you hope for the world just being present in that space.
Public spaces are light and air, they are song and dance, they are soul and sustenance, part cathedral, part spectacle, all human. We would all be better served to design and incorporate public spaces into our small cities to bring out the best human nature offers and to grace our towns with beauty and humanity.