Lessons from the eclipse: Public parks are a stage where great things happen

Eclipes in the park
CC BY 2.0 Eclipse in Toronto's Grange Park/ Lloyd Alter

Cycling through downtown Toronto during the partial eclipse was a remarkable experience; It was a beautiful sunny day (rare this summer) and there were more people in the streets than I had seen in a long time. But it was when I got off my bike to visit the recently renovated Grange Park, just south of the Art Gallery of Ontario, that I really sensed that I was part of a bigger event, and a bigger community.

grange parkGrange Park, Toronto/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The park was full of AGO employees, and the guy in the grey shirt and red shorts stopped me and asked if I wanted to look at the eclipse. I hung around for a while and had a few views, watched other people try it out, and continued on my way to my meeting. I thought it was all very lovely, but missed the bigger picture. At People for Public Spaces, they didn’t.

In The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, William H. Whyte always marveled at the way some things in public space can connect two strangers by providing a third point between them—what he called “triangulation.” For an hour or so around America, the eclipse became just such an engine of introduction.

wahington square© People for Public Spaces

They wandered over to Washington Square Park:

On our way to the park, every street corner where a sliver of sunlight cut across the sidewalk had a small crowd camped out, passing around special glasses. We exchanged greetings with another group as we passed by. Washington Square Park, which is busy on a normal day, was packed, and nearly everyone was in a congenial mood. People shared paper glasses, phones, pinhole cameras and contraptions of all kinds to enjoy the spectacle together…. Students, office workers, and tourists chatted, and a cheer rose up as the eclipse reached its peak, around 2:44pm. Not every day can have an eclipse, but every day could use a little more triangulation like this.

Toronto’s Park People get it right, but it takes more than an event to bring people together; it needs a stage, a place to happen. That’s why parks are so important.

Pinhole cameraUsing a big pinhole camera in Grange Park/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Lessons from the eclipse: Public parks are a stage where great things happen
All over North America, people came to parks to share the eclipse.

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