When I began writing this article I wanted to mention different interventions in public spaces from different locations, like Paris or Medellin. Following those case studies, I would mention the impact those projects had on environmental policy, through a magical (or not so magical) transformative process, as a result of those changes in public spaces.
However, when I started searching for evidence on the benefits of those spatial interventions far away, I decided to bring my thinking closer to home. Beyond the fact that governments propose projects that improve public spaces, with the expected benefits for society, it is society that should give meaning to those common areas where people interact.
Let’s do a practical exercise:
When I leave home, what is the first thing I see? the street, sidewalk, a green area? a sea of cars? my neighbor’s horrible façade? a pile of garbage?
And if I look at my own space: how is my house? does it have a green space? is it painted? do I have recycling and composting bins? how about a rainwater collection system?
The follow-up questions would be: have I talked to my neighbor? have we talked about the improvements we can do? perhaps to green our street, to make sure the sidewalks are working for pedestrians and not just cars? have we proposed ways to reduce our waste? or do some kind of community recycling? There are plenty of ideas and actions that could be taken if we seek to improve the spaces we share with those near us.
It’s not my job to solve it!
I know an apartment block that has been deteriorating as years go by. A wall that was hit by a car has not been fixed. The neighbors, instead of collaborating to improve their block, spend their time disqualifying other people’s actions and expect their government to fix all problems. “It’s not my job to solve it!”, they say most of the time.
What’s the result of this lack of responsibility and compromise from these neighbors? An increase in crime rates, the area’s detriment, and lower property values, inside that block. In general, a low quality of life and unwillingness to solve the problems at hand.
Local public intervention check-list
After this quick review, it’s time to do more for the public spaces near us, seeking our own benefit. These are five simple steps we can take to improve our surroundings:
- Identify the spaces on your sidewalk, walls, or roof, that can be greened by planting shrubs or trees. If you live in an apartment building, you can decide along with your neighbors the type of plants that can be placed by the entrance, or maybe on the rooftop. On your sidewalk, plant trees that are good at reducing air pollution. Some plants that are good at cleaning the air are ficus trees, ivy, and ferns.
- Break the ice and meet your next-door neighboor. Talk about the needs both have at home, or the common spaces you share and decide how you can improve or solve the common space needs. A good idea might be to paint walls, fix dents and ways to make their surroundings look better.
- Conduct garbage cleanup days on nearby parks, gardens and streets. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. When you walk on the street, carry a bag and pick up the litter you find around. If there aren’t any garbage containers in your area, ask your neighbor’s association, or local government to donate some.
- Keep constant communication with your neighbors on your block, or building. There are always topics to talk about related to your public space, or even security.
- Spread the seed. Have the actions taken had some effect? Talk about the results with your family and friends. Invite them to join your efforts to generate a positive change for the benefit of everyone: your space and everybody’s space.