I love the Italian Piazza. You find them in every town, big or small. Rome is full of them. They are gentle and filled with human sounds, blended voices and mainly devoid of cars. People stroll in them, they bump into friends, and they talk. Almost always, they are beautiful. You discover them. They spring up at you as you turn a corner. Yesterday I sat in the main Piazza in Ravello -- a stunning space, framed by beautiful old pine trees. Today, I am in Matera, a city carved out of a rock. The main Piazza is a beautiful odd-shaped space with white stone paving. I couldn't help notice how calming it was as I first entered it - quiet muffled voices, gentle sounds of people walking and the colors and sense of space. It lacked of the intrusion cars bring to cities, adding an even more peaceful tone to the space.
My hometown Toronto lacks such spaces. We have areas filled with cafes and lovely restaurants but there are no places where humans can relax, meet up, discuss work, politics, new ideas - where they can bump into each other "par hazard". We have a Piazza modeled on Times Square but a poor replica. It is noisy, devoid of trees, filled with glaring screens and about as unwelcoming as you can imagine. When I think about our town and Rome or any other Italian town with it's carless Piazzas, its "passegata" every afternoon when the town comes out to walk. Big cities can capture the intimacy of a small city with random carless Piazzas scattered about. They become cities for humans, not cities built on the concept of industrialization. Where are our town planners? What are they thinking when they design and modify our cities? We have moved from the Italian Piazza model to a faceless, high rise, car ridden, noisy environment. We have nowhere to escape, to really hang out. Our kids gravitate to shopping malls, they have nowhere to go except a space designed to get us to consume more than we need.
I have a dream that one day I will take a group of town planners to Italy, from one Piazza to the next. I will feed them well, let them drink good wine, brainwash them, so that when they return to cities like Toronto, they will strive to create the Piazzas for us and turn a heartless, soul-less environment into one where humans will love to be, meet, create, stroll, calm down and enjoy.