A Placemaking Journal

Gathering Places: Providers of comfort and joy

To wish you the happiest of holidays, I’d like to share some recent thoughts about the importance of gathering places both in the public and private realm, particularly as it relates to children, solace, and song. In celebration of the season, those places — when well planned and cultivated — become particularly poignant.

Take private porches, for example. My son’s grades two and three Caroling Club trudged happily through a couple feet of snow this week, in our traditional neighborhood. Their goal? Just to sing and share some joy — no funds were raised, although the last house did produce hot coco and doughnut holes.

The Caroling Club was an easy commitment from parents, teachers, and students, because the majority live within a few blocks of school. Only a couple arrived for the evening by car, and the surrounding homes are immediately adjacent to the school, making it an quick walk to the night’s destination — which was in itself a journey — with photos below all compliments of Stephen Borys.

The walkable urbanism kept their adventure in the cold night enjoyable and fun. The skinny street and garages out back kept them safer. The front porches became a gathering place in the private realm where they interacted with neighbours while the crowd of parents watched from the sidewalk.

Listening to their sweet voices waft across the snow, I couldn’t help lament again this month’s horrible events and resolve to explore more ways in which we can support and nurture our young ones. I realize the urbanism is just one tiny part of that much more complicated challenge. However, when things go very wrong, community gathering places can bring some solace.

In the public realm, well-planned squares and civic spaces provide for spontaneous expressions of joy and sorrow. This flash mob in Sabadell, Spain speaks to the joy side of that equation, with their fabulous production of Ode To Joy. Originally Ode to Freedom, the poem was renamed for political reasons, and became the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

While Friedrich Schiller wrote the words in 1785, and Ludwig van Beethoven set them to music in 1824, both still resonate deeply. The music and the voices seem to tie this Spanish crowd to one another through the ideals of love and acceptance just as their exquisite square still resonates as the crowning idea of their city structure.

These very sorts of places are illegal in most of our land use laws on North America today. We raise a toast to 433 cities and towns that have changed those laws to allow walkable, mixed-use, compact development to happen as a matter of right. And just may have made their own holiday cheer a little bit brighter.

Joyful, joyful
We adore Thee
God of glory
Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Hail Thee to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

With light
With light

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us Son ward
In the triumph song of life

Lyrics by Friedrich Schiller, 1785
(German, 1759 – 1805)

Music from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, 1824
(German, 1770 – 1827)

Hazel Borys

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