(Originally published on the David Prowler Blog on May 16, 2018)
It’s in a bourgeois neighborhood that’s well off the tourist path. It’s small; I’m guessing about 200’ by 500’, ringed by a hodgepodge of stores and dotted with street furniture. Nothing fancy at all, really modest.
There are a lot of reasons to be there: a pharmacy, a daycare center, a bank with an outside ATM, a driving school, a café, a small storefront for electrolysis (“Body Minute”), a real estate office. I saw two motorcyclists kissing while a few feet away a group of school kids admired a pet rabbit.
I bought a really nice wool cap for 20 euros (about $24).
There’s a groundbreaking study by William H. Whyte in 1979, funded by the National Geographic Society that resulted in a book and short film , both called the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.
His team set up cameras and filmed how real people use plazas and parks in Manhattan. Developers were getting additional height bonuses for providing these “amenities” but many of them were unlovable leftovers where nobody would want to linger. Some of his findings were pretty intuitive – like that people prefer to sit in the sun. But he also found that lovers like to kiss on display and that people like to chat right in the flow of traffic. Everyone who can will move a chair, even a little.
It’s not easy to design a place that works.
Place De Levis does.
I think it works because of the size, the scale of surrounding buildings, the classy fountain, lights and kiosk, the café and groceries, the visibility, and most of all the sheer variety of reasons to be there.
You could just walk through. But you could also pick up your kids at daycare, buy a hat, get cash or condoms from machines, buy apples or toothpaste. You could remove unwanted hair, learn to drive, or drink an espresso. I saw a couple take off their motorcycle helmets and kiss while a few feet away a group of school kids admired a pet rabbit.
You’re not supposed to, but you could kick a soccer ball around.
There’s a super-easy test to tell whether a public space works: you like being there.
I think you’d like Place De Levis.
All photos by David Prowler.
Originally published on the David Prowler Blog on May 16, 2018.