After a year of exploring, studying, and designing urban spaces I am completely surprised we didn’t study more of Greece. I am also a little disappointed. After the attempts at urban design, I found a city that makes it work. I say ‘attempts’ merely because looking back, we can all do better. It holds true for every project, but urban specifically. Describing our projects with “active centers, bike lanes, plazas, restaurant rows, and mix use housing”, but not really knowing if it will be successful. Yes, the ideas and the designs are there, but will the people? Without the people it is only failed design.
Kalamata has it. That special niche that we were all looking for and dreaming of, the “I know what San Diego could be”. From plan view Kalamata is not much different than San Diego. It is the typical grid pattern streets with varying widths to distinguish importance. Ground view is where it all changes, the perspective of the person. Its 9:00 pm at night, when I leave my hotel. The city seams to be alive. I find a pedestrian only boulevard. Shops are to my left and right, small planters, seating is sparse, and lights guide the way. Children are playing, couples are walking hand-in-hand, and everyone else has a plan. Local shops are slowly closing, but it doesn’t discourage people from being out.
The boulevard leads me to the elongated public plaza. The plaza was hustle and bustle. I saw more people in the plaza than I saw at Grand Central Station in NYC. Children were playing soccer, people were zooming past on bikes and rollerblades, girls in their teens were gossiping, families were out to dinner, boys were being boys, and everyone else was shopping. It was so busy two bikes almost hit me. The public space was everything one would want from a plaza. Not to mention, it felt incredibly safe.
The plaza was capped by a water feature on one side, and a children’s park on the other. By the time I walked to the children’s park, it was 9:45 pm. There were over a hundred children playing with families watching. I thought I was in a parallel universe. For those who cannot wait for a diagram/section….. Left To Right(measurements are estimates):
- Mix use with shops on the ground floor
- Sidewalk – 15ft
- Planters – 2ft
- Street parking – 5ft
- One way street – 10ft
- Planters – 2ft
- Walkway – 5ft
- Bike path – 5ft
- Open plaza – 40ft
- Restaurant Seating – 30ft
- Walkway – 15ft
- Mix use with restaurants on the ground floor
I am not an author. To be quite honest, I always hated English class. I write so I may share my experiences and remember the man I met on a bus who treated me to dinner with his family, paying and booking a hotel only to find out its out of business, fake crying in the Athens airport to get a ticket home, or remember the strangers who looked out for me on a bus. Some live, experience, and are fulfilled by what’s in their backyards. I find there is something truly exhilarating about cramming as many possessions into a bag as possible, only to complain you brought too many. This is my life out of a suitcase, hope you enjoy.