In a recent blog post, the organization Project for Public Places focuses on “placemaking” and using public space as a way to address social isolation. Sociability is one of the four segments that define the Place Diagram, a visual representation of what makes a great public space. Several examples of these great places in action come from Massachusetts.
The blog post notes that “sociability is the proof that all the elements of a place are working well together: that people feel included, represented, and welcomed in the full expression of themselves.”
To illustrate that, one example below came from Salem:
In Salem, Massachusetts, Culture House staff saw this effect first-hand while organizing a pop-up community space focused on art. In 2022, Culture House aimed to re-activate the historic Old Town Hall and saw an opportunity to make the building and surrounding area feel more inclusive. To do so, team members reached out to BIPOC artists in the area, many of whom had not felt welcome in the area before, to hear about their past experiences in Downtown Salem. The resulting programming centered the work of these creatives, including a featured installation on Black history alongside an exhibit and reception led by a local BIPOC arts and culture organization.
Over the course of the three-month pop-up, more than 10,000 visitors came to the space, with BIPOC-led exhibitions and events reliably drawing in the most BIPOC visitors. Greiner recalls that this attention to representation strengthened locals’ sense of connection—people felt more comfort in claiming a space once seen as unwelcoming, and more able to access the benefits of sociability.
Another example highlighted a concept called Queer Urbanism, which involves “designing spaces that go beyond the identities for which public spaces usually make room, removing assumptions around race, wealth, family structure, gender expression, and more to give people a sense of comfort in expressing themselves.” As the blog explains:
In action, places like Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts, fit the bill for Queer Urbanism, as evidenced by “public displays of queerness” that indicate a healthy level of comfort and belonging. The city gives visitors a feeling of not conforming to the standards of another town and, in so doing, encourages authenticity and openness between people. It has defined itself through its architecture and through the way people move along Commercial Street and through the city. By shedding a sense of heteronormativity that often pervades the public realm, Provincetown encourages self-expression while establishing itself as a place in which queerness is welcome.
Communities working to be more age- and dementia friendly can consider these and other concepts highlighted by Project for Public Spaces to create better community connections and address social isolation. More info and examples are available in the Project for Public Spaces blog post here.