In this essay, the urban layout, relationship with the street, triangulation, personal identity and pseudo spaces are discussed with a view to better understand the urban context of the New York Time Square and the People’s Square Shanghai (Renmin plaza). With the aide of google map and visiting the Renmin plaza, the recordings could be examined with much accuracy in order to better understand the functioning of the two famous squares.
Often nicknamed The Crossroads of the World, Time Square is one of the busiest squares in the world having more than a quarter million people passing there daily (Time Square Alliance,2014) . Hosting around forty million tourists annually (Time Square Alliance, 2014), Time Square, was once, in the late 1890s, severely dominated by illicit activities. However, due to the settlement of several famous companies like the New York Times( A view on cities, 2014), the area witnessed a crucial turning over where the city was restructured and while the development continued, communication with European countries established, leading to an exponential hike in the quality of its urban condition.
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Located in one of the most populated urban districts around the globe, People’s Square (Renmin Plaza) is among Shanghai largest public space (Moore, 2012) comprising mainly of a subway station, municipal council buildings and a nucleus like green structure on the boundaries. Formerly a horse racing ground, the area was converted to a park when the Communist Party was founded in the mid-20th century (Leo, 1999). Due to its centered location, the square acquired paramount importance for the local administrative government where much of the public gathering as well as shows would be launched in this particular area. Nowadays, the park hosts several monumental buildings like the Shanghai museum, Shanghai theatre as well as the famous water games pool only to mention a few.
New York City adopted a tabula rasa reform to produce an orthogonal grid pattern to its layout. Blocks are arranged one after each other which resulted in the formation of both streets and a rigid structure. Orthogonal city layout has been adopted since very long time ago in many part of the world. It has ever since arose lots of controvertible issues like it looks dull and is not suited for human due to the fact that the appropriate integration of micro organisations are not promoted well. However, despite designed from a top-down perspective, the spaces within the orthogonal arrangement, at a micro-scale level, generated the right opportunities for activities in this region to happen. Within the hyper local building typologies on site, a variety of small scale events could be shaped, thus resulting in both the zone’s diversity as well as ensuring the long term evolution of its economic health. This organized way of planning lead to the rational growth of the structure where old and new blocks could merge or interact with each other, resulting in the catalytic connectivity of the site. Furthermore, the relationship of the rigid grid and the non-grid structure of the city like the parks, the diagonal road cutting through it and the in-between spaces as well as resultant ones formed by the variant shapes of buildings amplified considerably the city’s structure where the circulation of both traffic and pedestrians was guaranteed.
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With one of the largest urban populations (City Layout, 2014) not only in China but also in the world, Shanghai has undergone a dramatic revolutionisation since some decades ago. Comprising around 16 districts, Shanghai main area is the Huangpu District where the Renmin plaza lies. Unlike other big cities in China, Shanghai has not adopted the orthogonal street layout but rather a more organic approach to the design. One of the main boon of the organic development is that it somehow fits human activities as well as developments of varying sizes can be carried out with much ease, a factor which is quite difficult in rigid grid design. The Renmin Plaza is surrounded by a couple of main roads as well as nearby to the intersection point of major subway lines (1, 2, 8) (Map of People’s Square, 2014). It is quite noticeable that major plazas are often located near stations where they carry out an important role as civic space-people will rather go for a walk in the plazas rather than staying in the stations waiting for the transit. However, it is worth pinpointing out that, even though the strategic location of the plazas is a fundamental factor of the urban setting, it remains crucial of how to primly make the space a place rather than compelling people to go through it.
Relationship with the street
Relationship with the street is one of the major factors affecting a plaza. Being in itself a transitional space and has as function to structure spaces, the streets determine how public or private a region is. New York Time Square is formed by the intersection of many major streets including the Broadway, the Seventh and the 42nd avenues only to mention a few. What really add to the fame of Time Square is the fact that the streets and the abutting buildings are closely related to each other and works like one system. Most if not all the structure on the plaza have as first floor commercial stores with windows carved into their façade leading to this abstract moment of commune between the passer-by and the building. This fundamental aspect of the urban setting of the plaza is nurtured by the streets. The avenues on the site provide the transitional space where the contact between individuals and built environment occurs.
The orthogonal structure of the New York City give rise to a numerous number of corners. Representing a very important feature in both urban design and architecture, corners trigger the necessary impetus for activities to happen and develop. The corners gives people the opportunity to step back from the heavy pedestrian flow and start a conversation with the environment which may include buildings, passer-by, and merchants amongst others. Those represent the vestibules which are self-structured and can work on its own which are the major aspects behind the plaza’s great fame.
The sidewalk spaces acts as transition spaces. As mentioned before, these spaces operate like catalysts for the communication of individuals with the surrounding environment. Having a part of Broadway street turned into a pedestrian route, Time Square is putting much emphasis on this aspect as the local authorities are under the strong impression that maximum exposure of the visitors would remarkably be beneficial to the plaza’s image. Yet, despite it is a good way of dealing with the situation, no more solutions to improve the plazas has been undertaken. It is very important to consider about the visitors themselves as they are the responsible ones who renders the images of spaces. In order to curb this problem, the authorities did put some movable chairs on the site with a view to hosting people who wants to have chat or rest a little bit. Still, with the vast flow of pedestrians, sitting in the mid of the path is not a wise decision. According to William H. Whyte, people like to sit in an area where they are indeed part of the scene happening on the streets but at least have a small barrier as a separation means (William H. Whyte, 1980).
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In the case of Renmin Plaza, despite the people’s flow is quite similar to the New York Time Square’s one, the street life at Renmin plaza seems to be quite dull. There is a boundary separating individuals from other individuals. Even though the adjoining buildings are in good interactions with the sidewalks, the corners remains a place where people just wait to cross the road. In fact, the cutting off of the streets from the plaza is one of the main reason behind the low interactive level. Many Chinese streets adopted the ‘Boulevard’ type of routes where trees are aligned on both side of the road which gives the illusion to be in a very nice atmosphere while travelling, but instead, it completely blots the view on the surrounding structures. People tend to go to places which is on their sightlin e. A very good example to support this statement is the sunken plaza of Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University. Designed to be a place where students as well as members of the staffs would gather, turned out to be an area where the activity level is astonishingly low. All to say that, although the trees help to reduce the heat island effect on the streets, it needs to be wisely placed with a view to promoting the relationship of the people with the environment rather than cutting them off.
Triangulation is the process by which external factors, which may or may not be initially part of the urban setting, generate opportunity for interactions among individuals to occur. Varying from human beings to objects like chairs, triangulors are among the main aspects which can help the social life in an urban context. The city structure like buildings, streets, plazas, and in-between spaces, amongst others are not the only factors making up the place but also the people using as well as experiencing it forms up the place. One of New York’s identity is the skyscrapers which have fundamental social effects. Acting like monuments, the towers are real crowd pullers which often leads to the interactions of the visitors as shown in figure 6.
On the other hand is People’s Square which is aesthetically pleasing. The triangulors present on the site are the buildings but mainly the water play at the central plaza where the toll of people interacting with one another is really high. As a matter of fact, even though the city consists of many well designed spaces, the role of triangulors cannot be underestimated for it helps people connect with each other without deliberately forcing them to so.
The space in which an individual dwells in is a crucial factor which determines cultural practices which consequently molds the latter’s personal identity. For example, somebody living in an urban area will have a different personal as well as spatial identity compared to someone who is from a remote rural area. Spatial identity is becoming a very delicate factor nowadays due to globalization. Many spaces as well as places tend to look similar, leaving behind the place identity which removes considerably the background of the area. A good example to support this fact is Shanghai itself. The rich traditional Chinese culture is now being eluded by western cultures. The urban setting of the city’s resemble the ones in New York. Chinese buildings has a strong individuality which is rarely being seen in big cities nowadays. Many of the buildings is westernized. The People’s Square too has not been an exception of the eluded cultural background. Most if not all the spaces in the Renmin Plaza, while experiencing them, give the illusion to be in a western country. Having the same configurations of the spaces everywhere, might lead in the future, monotony as it will give the feeling of déjà vu, thus badly affecting the urban spaces. However, considering Time Square, skyscrapers have been since a very long time ago, a part and parcel in the living style of the American society.
Pseudo spaces are those ones who are available for the public but only for certain types of activities or even people. Nowadays, the majority of public and civic spaces are administrated by city ordinances and regulated by police departments. Time Square, though considered public, allows only a certain types of activities or individual to feature. Consequently, it can be concluded that many people whose activities or has a different living style might not be able to get access to Time Square. One definition for public space is an area which one and all can access. Accessibility to a public space does not only mean to be physically present but also to interact with the surrounding. However, how public is Time Square? Controlled by the Time Square Alliance, a group policemen ensuring the proper functioning of a region, Time Square cannot deal with a different type of activity which does not feature on the ‘allowed list’ of the security persons. It can only deal with physical accessibility of a huge pedestrian flow. As a matter of fact, Time Square is not really a public space but rather a pseudo public space where only some types of activities are allowed. As for People’s Square, it follows the same way of Time Square. Police officers as well as security camera are installed in every corner of the streets to ensure the proper behavior of the passer-by. However, there is a difference between how much public these two plazas are. According to the ranges of activities, accessibility as well as interaction with the environment, New York Time Square can be considered to be more public. Renmin Plaza closes at a certain time living the place dull at some point whereas New York Time Square is open on a 24 hour basis making it more public as people can not only get access there but also stay for a longer time period.
New York Time Square and People’s Square have both similarities and difference in their respective urban settings. Both orthogonal and organic city layout has pros and cons. In fact, several external factors like locations, culture, economic amongst others are the determinant that indicates which layout might best suit a certain city. As for the relationship with the streets, plazas needs to imperatively have a good connection with them. Many factors like, accessibility, sightline, corners, in-between spaces, only to mention a few shows how successful a plaza can be. Triangulation too is a major aspect in designing a square as they can relate the users to the surrounding environment thus really enhancing their journey in the open space. Moreover, as the world is turning into a global villages, many spaces tend to look alike to the detriment of the valuable ways of doing as well as cultures. Many regions in China has not developed and inculcated their rich philosophy in their city design, making the personal identity of the Chinese society very similar to western ones. Finally, pseudo public spaces are witnessing an ever increase in number since a couple of decades ago. It is true that pseudo spaces contribute to the well-being of the users and help to promote the image of a city but they may be regarded as discriminative as not only a certain type of activities are allowed but also many people might be rejected as they cannot merge with the surrounding. It is worth noting that although the structures on site help to create spaces, it is the users who make them become places.
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William H. Whyte. (1980) The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces Project for Public Spaces, New York, Project for Public Spaces Inc