So I have been traveling a bit the past months in South America, and one thing that struck me was that there is “life” at most of the “Plazas” I have been passing. Now, what do I mean: cities, and in particular cities of the Americas have mostly a grid layout. Usually at the center of this grid is a plaza/square with some trees and green and something like the mayors office.  But of course, the bigger the city the more plazas – with each neighbourhood having its own plaza.

People playing chess and drinking mate tea at Plaza Sarmiento in Mendoza, Argentina (foto by S. Steiniger).

In Argentina, Chile and Bolivia I have been hanging out at such plazas, and particularly in weekends or evenings I have been seeing people there – lots of them! People that chat, kids that play – but more importantly, citizens (and tourists) that use the place to relax. In the adjacent streets and facing towards the plaza I could find shops, restaurants and coffee places besides offices.

The two questions that I asked me then was: a) Why does Calgary not have such meeting places? …maybe apart from Prince’s Island Park. And: What makes it that these places are meeting places in these countries? Well, maybe I should add that I have seen such places in Europe too, e.g. in Zürich (CH) the Bäcker-Anlage, or in Dresden (DE) the Alaun Park.

Of course, there are three important differences between Calgary, and lets say: Buenos Aires in Argentina, which has a lot of smaller neighborhood parks that are not larger than a block.

a) Calgary has a different housing structure, i.e. whereas in Calgary we find family homes and maybe some condo towers, Buenos Aires (or other cities) has at least 3 storey houses but more often 5-10 storey houses in these neighborhoods. But, in Bolivia and Chile I saw functioning plazas also in 2-storey neighbourhoods in more central locations.

Plaza Güemes in Buenos Aires, Argentina (from wikimapia.org)

b)  The climate: even in winters its rarely below zero degrees in cities like Buenos Aires or Santa Cruz de la Sierra. And, winter in Calgary is lasting about 6 months.

c) The culture: yes, it maybe known that Latinos have no problems talking to strangers and they also eat dinner relatively late – I am not even talking about the famous siestas here.

Which brings me to my next question: What, if we would re-structure a Calgary community with a school and often a sport site at its heart? E.g. we replace the sport site by a small park with a playground (for young and old) and put some small shops and a coffee place on its side? Maybe people would still prefer to stay at their home, but maybe not? I know, it is an idea that is difficult to implement and may fail just due to fact that we have low density neighborhoods … but: What – If?

Plaza 24 de Septiembre in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia (foto by beisbol)

To answer this what-if question, the PlanYour-Place project will also have a focus on tools that allow to evaluate development plans with assessment models. Of course, such models aren’t build in the next months – but hopefully in a few years a mouse click will tell what might happen in such a scenario.

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