There Is More To A Place

September 6th, 2007

People are the most important part of places. I have written about this before. Twice. And I am delighted to read that the guys at Penny Arcade agree. In their news post today, Gabe recounts the success of PAX – the three-day game festival they host every year in Seattle, WA. He recalls that representatives (or perhaps, spies) from other festivals were taking notes and mapping the exhibits with the expectation that applying the same formula and using the same ingredients as PAX, they could reproduce the atmosphere and their festival could be just as successful. What they neglected to realize (as Gabe aptly wrote) is that it is not the physical setting that ensures the festival’s success – it is the community.

I have noticed the same phenomenon at bluegrass festivals. At FloydFest, like many other bluegrass festivals, an entire village is constructed only to be disassembled four days later. If such temporary and haphazard infrastructure can support thousands of people and accommodate their basic needs, what is the need for urban planners? Minimal planning was done to organize the campers at FloydFest. Rough guides were given in the form of tape laid out on the ground indicating recommended camping areas, but the festival attendees ultimately organized themselves. As an urban planner, I am often deeply concerned that while I may design an efficient and beautiful place, it will not be appreciated to its fullest potential without its intended population. Does the place – the physical setting – even matter without the people to animate and enliven it? And will people ultimately adapt their activities to whatever space they occupy regardless of how well-planned it was?

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