Tag Archives: public spaces

The Importance of Public Spaces

17 Feb

“That’s why we’re still here, because we found the common.”

Soul Pancake has certainly been tugging on my heart strings and making me smile lately.

And they did it again with this video about a public adult ball pit– Take a Seat, Make a Friend:

Why are public spaces [ball pits] important?

Because I think we over think actions for peace.

On Sunday, when you’re planning your week, if someone asked you, “Do you have time to dedicate this week to a significant action for peace?” How would you respond?

You scan your agenda.  Your list of activities on Monday is already so long they’ve outgrown their box and overflowed into Tuesday.  I’ll never check my way through that entire list, you think.

“Hmmm, this week’s going to be tight…and I can’t say that next week will be much better.”

What if they had pitched the question, “Could you squeeze in five minutes to sit in a ball pit with someone you don’t know this week?”

Now remember, I didn’t say do you have significant time?  I said do you have time for a significant action?

After cutting through a number of responses that sound something like this, “No way! You do know that ball pits are a cesspool of germs, right?  It’s basically the equivalent of a hot tub at Arby’s that’s never been cleaned once and was filled the first time with garbage water siphoned out of the local sewer.”

You might eventually get a, “Yeah, you know, I loved ball pits as a kid.  I think I could squeeze that in, but I don’t know about this whole actions for peace thing, Molly.”

And that’s where I’d have to say, “Just trust me. But, also watch the video.”

Something magical happens when we’re forced to bump into people that we wouldn’t normally bump into– we find common ground.  There’s often a lack of peace and a lack of understanding when we stop bumping into people who are different than us, when we don’t have places like playgrounds and plazas and parks and ball pits and museums and community centers to bump into each other at.

So, in my book, an action for peace can be many things large or small, but it is certainly one that makes someone else smile, finds the common, or makes someone think, “Hey, you’re not so bad after all.”

There are lots of things we can do: open the door for someone with a smile, sit in a ball pit with a stranger, or sit in a train station community center with neighbors you’ve never taken the time to talk to before.

So, what is your agenda looking like this week? My agenda has a meeting with an awesome public spaces initiative in Asuncion called Puerto Abierto (Open Port), who would like to support bringing their concept to Paraguari and the train station!

Why not start today?

Lots of actions for peace are free, but sometimes they need monetary support, too.  Donate today! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009



Santiago go go!

12 Apr

In Santiago I stayed with my friend Cori and her husband Cesar.  They were excellent hosts with lots of Chilean wine at the ready!

While walking around Santiago many parts felt familiar, yet changed in the three years since I’ve lived there.  Walking around the cuico (rich) areas of town felt otherworldly– where did all of these foreigners come from?

Balding men in Corvette (or enter large company name here) polos who seemed like they would sooner be the butt of one of Jeff Foxworthy’s Red Neck jokes than lunching in a Santaigo sidewalk cafe were scattered everywhere, lunching in sidewalk cafes on business meetings!

I could make the few block walk from the metro to the apartment without hearing a single word of Spanish.  Men and women in business casual were speaking English on their way into Starbucks.

Luckily, old men in newsies hats still dotted the streets, seemingly strategically placed as a reminder of a different time.  They were anchors to the past, the last living reminders that this extremely modern city sprung up around them and not the other way around.

While studying abroad in Santiago I was often frustrated at the effects of the modernization and growth of the city.  I thought that it left it sterile and out of touch with its Latin American roots.  These same perks of the modern city I couldn’t help but LOVE this time around: its organization, clean streets, bus schedules and routes that you can check online, street art, international chain stores and restaurants, people who keep to themselves (and therefore don’t comment on your 1-pound fluctuation in weight, etc.), and access to art, culture and public spaces!

You mean we can play in this beautiful park?


Or walk through this sculpture garden?


Or randomly get off of the subway and run into an excellently curated and free Animal Extinctions Mini-Museum INSIDE of the Metro Station?


Or meet up with old friends who are shaping up to be the movers, shakers, and entrepreneurs of Santiago to reminisce, talk about ideas, the challenges of development, and drink borgoña? (red wine with lots of added sugar and fruit)


Or go to an art museum for free (or a small suggested donation) that has spaces for children to play, learn, interact, and do art themselves?


Or go for a run and then end up in an adult playground of gym equipment?


I guess this graffiti says it best, “Turn off the television! Turn on your mind.”


That’s what I was loving about Santiago, what I miss about home, and what I fear on a daily basis is missing in Paraguay (except, perhaps in Asunción or Encarnación).

I loved that should someone want to actually turn off the television and walk out of their house there were all sorts of things at their fingertips– books to be bought from vending machines or libraries in the metro, free events in the park, kids to play with and people to bump into in the park.

Bumping into literature, art, culture, museums, people who are different than you…Santiago was almost forcing these things down your throat at every turn of the corner.  I LOVED IT!  The city was making things that were once a luxury accessible to a more general public, the kind of thing that will help spur creativity, innovation, and critical thinking now and in future generations.

Santiago is obviously not without its faults– major smog problems, major public education strikes in the past year, and one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in Latin America, to name a few.

But on the whole Santiago is an enjoyable city and at least seems to be making an effort to open up cultural and educational spaces to populations that traditionally have been excluded from them in the past. The city of Santiago has half a million more people than Paraguay has in its entire country and therefore access to a lot more variety of and just a lot MORE resources.  Yet I still think the principles of the recent development initiatives are good and could be modified or used to inspire goals for places like Paraguay!

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