High-rise buildings are especially problematic, as it is harder for their residents to participate in the social life of the city than it is for residents of four-story-and-under buildings. Above the fourth floor or so, it is difficult to recognize a familiar face on the street or to call out a warning to a child endangered by a passing vehicle. One's visual field tends to be oriented away from the immediate street environment and more toward the distant cityscape and landscape.
Social interaction in high rise buildings is also limited by their internal corridors. No doubt there are valuable friendships and social interdependencies within Bliss Tower, but such relationships tend to arise despite the physical environment, not because of it. The biggest problem with corridor buildings is that their residents are either completely inside their apartments or completely outside them; there's no in-between. A solid fire door on a blank-walled corridor eliminates gradations between in and out, between the private world of the home and the public world of passersby. This reduces the opportunities people have to meet each other. The single woman in 7A hoping to "accidentally on purpose" bump into the handsome guy living in 7G, or the elderly woman looking for a friendly greeting from the maintenance man won't even know when they have come and gone. Such might not sound like a big deal, but it becomes a big deal for those living with it day after day. By comparison, apartments in buildings with porches and stoops and that open directly to the street offer many more opportunities for their residents to casually interact with neighbors and strangers.
As I further considered the Second Ward's isolation problem, I looked at the city's structured public spaces. Structured spaces have built edges on two or more sides, and are usually located on or next to a highly used pathway. Thurston Park on lower Warren Street is an example, and a similar one lies adjacent to Mexican Radio. The Seventh Street Park and the Courthouse Green are much larger examples, and the buildings that enclose them are across the street. Such spaces are valuable for fostering social interaction; they are the spaces people go to to take a break from work, eat an ice cream cone, feed the pigeons, or people watch. They are also the spaces people incidentally pass through, all of which fosters the casual encounters that build familiarity and knit a community together. Soft public spaces (such as Promenade Park, Waterfront Park, and the Cemetery) are also important to cities but they tend to be located more on the periphery of neighborhoods or districts and to support somewhat different social purposes.
|A structured public space: Thurston Park on lower Warren Street|
|Structured public spaces (in red) are important for fostering casual social interaction.|
I would sure go there to people watch.