Placemaker

“This is the place,” said Bertie. “Just perfect. What do you think?”

Shama looked around the village car park. It didn’t seem anything special, just tarmac with some potted trees. “What do you mean?” he said.

“Look, I know you’re involved with the Botanical Garden; that’s a great place too. Lots of people walk around in there before and after work, but it’s a different kind of place. It’s enclosed and full of small trails…”

Shama waved at a girl he’d chatted to in the garden. She smiled and indicated she’d be in the coffee shop. He could join her there when he’d finished with Bertie. Why was this guy so keen to bring him here? wondered Shama; it was only a car park. He said, “I’m not really involved there yet. I’ve just signed up to study. That’s all.”

Bertie said, “What are you studying? Landscape gardening?”

“It’s called Extreme Gardening,” said Shama. “But what’s that got to do with this place?”

Bertie’s eyes lit up when he said place. “I think you understand the concept of place, but you’re not being open. The Botanical Garden is a natural space, but we also need a cultural space in the village. There’s the community centre, of course, but that’s a building, not a place for public interaction; it’s part of a design philosophy that separates civic functions, and caters to cars and shopping centres rather than people. We should be creating good public spaces that promote people’s happiness, and their health and well being. A building of any kind is a contrived environment; we should create open spaces.”

Shama saw a guy he’d played soccer with last week. It was just a kick around in the car park, avoiding passing vehicles, but they’d had a lot of fun. The guy shouted, “Wanna kick around later on?” Shama gave a thumbs up, then returned his attention to Bertie. “Sorry about that. What were we saying? Oh yes, open spaces. What do they have to do with me?”

“Look. You’ve come here from the inner city. You told me the police sirens and search helicopters drove you mad, and you craved peace and quiet. Well, here you have it. But don’t you miss all the social interactions? In the city there are too many people, that’s true, and the only way to retain your sanity is to ignore them. But here in the village, we see too few people. It can get lonely. I thought you would appreciate that and support my initiative.”

Shama said, “Well, what are you trying to achieve?” Some high school kids called out to him with a chorus of “Yo!”s. He’d joined in with their rapping last week, gaining instant street cred. He shouted back, “Ho!”

Bertie said, “The way to make a real place is to use the local community’s assets, to discover their inspiration and potential. This is an agricultural area. We should focus on food – its growing, tasting and trading. That would attract local people and increase their social encounters. It would get them out of the boxes they live, travel, and work in and immerse them in the real sights and sounds of Lucerne, plus enhance their thoughts and imaginations. In the five minutes we’ve been chatting, a number of people have greeted you already. If only we could create a focus here. It could be the crossing point of a vibrant community.”

It would be a good place, thought Shama. During his life of petty crime in the city, there were certain things he’d looked for – enclosed spaces, opaque barriers, and no windows and doors nearby; flat or dim lighting, hiding places, uncontrolled access points; high risk targets out of view. Lucerne’s car park had none of these things. It was open and free. It would be perfect for natural surveillance; citizens would keep an eye on each other, and the risk of being caught was high. There would be no temptation to return to his old ways. This was The Place, he thought.

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