When we think about urban environments we picture tall buildings, noisy traffic, and hard surfaces. But the real point of urban environments is people, lots of them, bouncing off each other—eating lunch in the square, going to the theater, crowding around a street performer, sharing a sidewalk. Cities bring people together.
Food also brings people together and one could think of urban spaces as giant family tables. After all, Napoleon didn’t describe Venice’s Piazza San Marco as “the finest drawing room in Europe” for nothing. A $15.00 lemonade at one of its cafés is worth every penny if you make good use of your plaza-side table.
Community spaces and tables are prevailing in private spaces as well. Metropolis Magazine writes about restaurants across the country that are designing their spaces and menus to become what sociologists call the third place—the place that is not home or work—where you go to hang out.
Local restaurateur Jose Andres recognizes the value of communal celebration and includes a long community table in his restaurants and at Le Pain Quotidien, you may find a fresh baguette and a new friend at the communal table.
Combine food and people and you’re bound to get politics—or at least an interesting discussion around that communal table. In Pittsburgh, Conflict Kitchen serves “food from countries the United States is in conflict with.” Their façade creates a distinct street presence and their menu is as much about sustenance as communication.
Is there a way to use urban design of public space to create “third places” and what are the elements of a successful place? I can picture a communal table in the new Silver Spring Civic Building’s Veteran’s Plaza and imagine the conversations that could take place around it.