The World’s Best & Worst Plazas – Part2 Worst

The Atlantic Cities posted their Best and Worst of the World’s Central Plazas and Squares with photos and insights into this element of our human habitat. We’re taking this all in, in Phases. Part 1 – The Best…gaining some inspiration…a few of the Best plazas that are similar to what we’ve got at City Hall. Part 2 – The Worst…at least the City Hall plaza’s not this bad (right?). Part 3 – Dallas City Hall Plaza…look at all our potential for this plaza!

Okay, let’s take a look at the Worst to see what lessons we can learn, and hopefully not feel so bad for having this plaza at City Hall that we all complain about….I mean, at least it didn’t make the list of World’s Worst Plazas!

Open space to this degree would seem like a good idea (especially pre-“Big Dig”) but this plaza ends up feeling anti-social with its challenging series of steps and concrete surroundings. There are no lack of planned events here but it does not inspire spontaneous gatherings.

IM Pei, who designed the Dallas City Hall building and plaza, designed the Boston City Hall plaza (the building itself was designed by someone else, but he planned the location and all.) It just seems to be really out of context. Like, perhaps if the mixed-use development had come to fruition as supposedly planned (similarly to supposed plans for redevelopment opportunities on the tree grove green of the Dallas Plaza) the area would have been a little closer to establishing the mix of uses necessary to accommodate the flocks of people that would necessitate a plaza this large.

Exchange Square is far from unattractive but it is also far from perfect. The seating that is provided feels too structured, as if intended for scheduled events. Walls form as barriers along the charming pubs and restaurants by Cateaton Street. A missed opportunity for a truly vibrant space.

A bit too contrived.

Beautiful fountains and an even more beautiful obelisk make for a great space. But two rings of heavy auto traffic make for a more stressful journey than necessary. This stress is especially noticeable after a walk in the adjacent Tuileries Garden.

This square certainly isn’t lacking in beauty. But its auto-centric surroundings make it difficult to reach its potential as an ideal gathering space. Traffic calming measures have been put in place recently but the spaces that touch N. 20th and N. 18th are still your best bets for a serene public setting.

Nothing is pleasant about dodging traffic – to get to the plazas in the round-about.

Schouwburgplein was once an abject failure. After a 1997 redesign, it is now simply a public square that fails to live up to its potential. It opens itself up to the street but much of the spontaneous pedestrian activity only occurs along its sidewalks adjacent to more dense city blocks. Schouwburgplein still seems too spacious for its own good.

Needs density. A reason for people to end-up there. And something to do once they’re there.

The seating and shelter islands have a vintage charm but HUD plaza is held back from some basic layout issues. In what was likely an attempt to not let the parking garage entry become intimidating, the path for cars is not distinct from the pedestrian paths. However, this makes one feel as if they are sharing the same space-a far from settling feeling for pedestrians. A wall forms at the sidewalk where cars emerge from the garage beneath, forming a barrier that makes you feel as if you have to cross another street just to find a place to rest.

Although few will doubt its significance as well as its efficient layout, the Mall is in need of significant upgrades. More paved surfaces, bathroom facilities, and trash receptacles would help. A master plan for it has been approved and a design competition for sections of it has been announced.

Planners tend to use the presence of people as a successful-people-place-metric, but just because there are people there doesn’t mean the space couldn’t be much more accommodating.

Designed as if for a Corbusien-metropolis, the Empire State Plaza has all the late modernist cliches that led to its demise. Swaths of empty space, cold, out-of-scale architecture, and high, blank walls that prevent pedestrians from seeing what is happening up the steps to the plaza. Photogenic, but not people-oriented.

Saved the worst for last. Desolate. Soul-less… probably looks great flying over.

Now, on to the good stuff! Part 3 – Dallas City Hall Plaza and all its great potential…we can fix this.

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