It’s often the smallest of spaces that can radically transform neighborhoods. Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates (UDA) has spent the past summer documenting such places in the city where cafés, galleries, and boutiques have become agents of change.
“A lot of the things that are working organically in American neighborhoods are the sparks of inspiration and hard work by small businesses,” says UDA chairman Rob Robinson.
Their findings have been published in an open source manual titled Everyday Squares.
The manual offers as case studies cafes and restaurants like Espresso A Manno, Tazza D’Orro and Round Corner Cantina, and traditional squares like the new Village Park at Point Park University.
But in addition to just providing a gathering place, Robinson says he has found Pittsburgh’s small business owners to be incredibly community minded, and willing to share their facilities for various neighborhood needs.
“They give up space for the bike club meeting, or the family planning meeting, whatever it is,” Robinson says. “All those spaces are almost universally used for community good as well as just private gain.”
But according to Robinson, designers and architects don’t always plan for these Everyday Squares. He says many redevelopment efforts are too big, asking tenants to lease expensive storefronts with enormous footprints. His firm is working to address these considerations.
“We have started to design spaces where the footprint for a commercial user is tiny—400 or 500 square feet, not 1,200—which is about triple of what you really need,” he says.
Robinson hopes the manual can aid commnity development corporations and other planning agencies in revitalization efforts and new development projects.
And aside from being small and flexible Robinson says successful squares are able to blend the line between public and private space.
Not only does blending these spaces help to build a sense of comfort and community, Robinson says, it’s also good for business. A restaurant that is able to take advantage of sidewalk or terrace seating, for example, is often able to triple its revenue without tripling overhead.
Robinsons says it’s important for neighborhood groups and planners to find out what’s working for small entrepreneurs and to create spaces that allow businesses to share resources.
“I think everybody recognized, wow, if I had three more friends here and we were all contributing to a little piece of this neighborhood, we’d be better, and our businesses would survive better,” Robinson says. “It would be a more interesting place.”
Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Rob Robinson