Friday, March 12, 2010

The Power of Ten

This week I discovered the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a group focused on improving communities through creating a certain kind of public space.  In a 2004 article that appeared in the PPS newsletter, the author lays out the idea of "power of ten" as it applies to public spaces.  In a nutshell he argues that a public space will not become a thriving center of activity and discourse until it offers a variety of different types of things to do (hence the title "Power of Ten").  The author, Fred Kent--who is now the president of PPS, uses a park as an example.  A great park has a playground, a walking trail, a popcorn vendor, an art display, and is located across the street from a bookstore.  Because it offers a variety of activities, it caters to a variety of people and becomes a lively, active place.  The sort of place a community hopes it will have.

This got me thinking, again, about the public spaces on our campuses and whether or not they are effective in building community.  In my last post I talked a bit about student union buildings and the lack of academic happenings there.  As I read Fred Kent's piece and spent some time on the PPS site, I realized that it's not just academics that are often missing from the student union, but a whole host of other things as well.  On my campus the Student center has a variety of things going on, but they are all the same sorts of things--a bowling alley, student clubs, a student-service center, and a food court.  Those are all great things, but they seem to all appeal to the same sort of student, one likely to be involved in social events, formalized student leadership, and campus-sponsored organizations.  If I've read Kent's ideas accurately, the best sort of student center is a little more eclectic and hosts a broad range of things that are likely to attract all sorts of students.

So, if you were going to redesign your student union (or whatever you call it on your campus), what sorts of things would you make sure were there?  Or, if your student center is already this sort of teeming public space, what sorts of things happen there that make it so?