Runstad Fellowship 2013: Berlin, Krakow, and Detroit – Elements of engagement

April 29, 2013

What is a great space? We all have a couple of examples in our minds, but how are these developments achieved? How can we reach a good equilibrium and mix of human connection and commerce? The end result is most of the time taken for granted, but the process and the necessary elements remain unclear for most of us. In our journey to discover this and other related topics, there are some important preliminary insights from Krakow.

In the very nature of human beings there is the need and desire of attraction to the senses. Spaces need to provide real contact, through elements of engagement such as smell, sound, visuals, light, taste, and touch. These elements provide the space with its own identity and uniqueness and catch people into the context.

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Some good examples we have seen are the Krakow markets and plazas, full of people even at 21 degrees Fahrenheit and snow in the streets. What brings people to those spaces even under those unpleasant weather factors? The elements of engagement previously mentioned are clearly an important piece in the puzzle.

One of my favorite plazas had a mixture of local stands that provided traditional street food, hand crafted products, and live music. The combination of the smells coming from cheeses, meats, vegetables, together with the live music, and the traditional design of the stands made up for a great drawing power and engagement. A good market was Hala Targawa, which featured the same elements but in a complete different nature. The stands were some in the open air and some covered, but they were all small and family-owned, with a variety of products that ranged from all kinds of foods and drinks, to underwear. In Hala Targawa we felt the importance of the interaction between people; we saw care and personal belonging emanate from the commercial transactions, in which both buyers and sellers were more than just that, and cared about each other.

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This journey of exploration and learning is still at an early stage. But some great powerful ideas are starting to take shape and proving validation through real examples, such as the ones previously exposed.