11 July 2010

The City is Family

... and Fountain Square is the Living Room.
I just returned from an outing with family and friends on Fountain Square. It was movie night and after the first movie, I sat and just watched all the interactions happening. It truly is beautiful to see such a wide range of people come and enjoy each other's company. I saw many people greeting each other, some hugging and some sharing a beer. Saw a grampa scolding boys, saw spilt ice-cream, saw girls playing with dolls, saw a dad giving a bottle to his new infant, saw old people falling asleep, saw kids splashing in the water, and much more. There were people coming for the movie, but also many people just passing through from the monster truck show, or heading to a wedding reception.

Every time I go on a Saturday, my kids accidentally meet up with friends, or they make new ones. There were kids everywhere, running around and weaving through the chairs. Off to the side some boys started a ball game:
I saw many familiar faces. Some I just saw across the way but for a few we got together and talked. One family I know that was there have a lot of kids. I'm not even really sure how many but they are probably approaching double digits. A free movie for them could save them a lot of money.

The majority of the crowd come for the event, but I really don't think the free movie is the real reason they come. I know it isn't for me. I mean you can get air conditioning and a better view at a multiplex. Rather it is the chance to come and be amongst your very extended family and relax together. It is just a great thing to have an enjoyable summer evening with a bunch of friends, strangers and fellow citizens. It is reassuring in a time of unemployment and ecological disasters that so many people can come together and have a peaceful time. I mean if you just get your information from the media or from the internet, you might get a pretty pessimistic view of your fellow man.

I've thought about this kind of communal experience a lot. I've experience it in other cities and there was a time when I thought you couldn't really have those kind of relaxed gatherings in downtown Cincinnati. I've been going to Fountain Square regularly for many years, and a lot of those times, say in the 90s, it was pretty empty in the evenings. I can remember many times going to the fountain on a Saturday night and there would be maybe a dozen people, a couple of cops and no open restaurants. It seemed more like a place where you were not allowed to do things. I remember being told several times that bikes were not allowed on the square. Today, they still are not allowed, but why would you even try when it is so crowded?

I think it goes to show that public spaces, especially urban ones, need to be managed. You cannot just pave a square in the center of town, put in a fountain and expect much. People need a reason to come. Make no mistake. People already want to come, but they need that reason, some event that gives them that excuse to come out and gather. And then you need the ambassadors, and the concessions and all the other stuff that makes it possible, down to the clean toilets.

Another great night to come is salsa night. If you haven't been on Fountain Square on salsa night, do yourself a favor and try it. It is amazing, all the laughing and dancing.


Unknown said...

Wonderful! Hope we can catch one soon.

5chw4r7z said...

Remember back when all the haters said spending money on the square was a waste and no one would go to the new Fountain Square?

Its amazing how even on a Sunday/Monday night the Square is packed, crazy, I've always considered it my front yard.
And, can anyone watch the kids in the interactive fountain and not LOL? Makes me want to join in.