Thursday, January 24, 2013

Capitalism Is Alive & Well?

Our everyday urban spaces are purposed for a variety of activities and users.  Commerce, sitting, birds, sculpture, transportation, plants and people are just some of the components on display at the plaza at the southwest corner of 2nd Ave and Spring St in downtown Seattle.  

On a recent cold, weekday holiday afternoon, activity was confined primarily to the plaza’s periphery: coffee drinkers clustered around a table, commuters waiting at street’s edge for their bus, or, for some unlucky souls, dozens of stories above the plaza, busily typing away in their cubicles and lamenting their not getting the day off. 

While the plaza was essentially barren at least in some part due to the temperature, it was still rich in commentary on the urban experience.  The stark juxtaposition of the space’s private-public nature through bold signage was what immediately drew us in.  While tempting to blame the space’s desolation entirely on temperature, one could argue that blatant mixing of messages to LINGER! and BUY STUFF! may in fact be confusing and off-putting to users, leading them elsewhere to relax where the pressure to consume is reduced.

Upon further examination we discovered just how much the adjacent businesses have dictated the character of the space.  Tables are only large enough to accommodate conversation punctuated by a sandwich or a few coffees.  It is difficult to imagine this plaza being the site of a picnic lunch or barbeque because of the furniture’s limitations.  Similarly, the variety of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in attractive containers pay homage to the chic flower shop located at the plaza’s south edge.

Our evaluation of the sharing of public and private interests within a single space would be more complete if we were to investigate again in more amenable weather.  Perhaps then the space would be transformed and fully active, but at this moment in time, the shared space seems superfluous.  

- James Day & Graham Golbuff

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