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Editor's Desk - April 2011

A Story of Increasing Access

I heard a story this morning about the 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize, which went to Eduardo Souto de Moura, a 58-year-old Portuguese architect who is not well-known in the United States, but has designed many landmark structures in his home country.

The part of the story that caught my interest was the discussion of the soccer stadium in Braga, Portugal, one side of which ends at a quarry, which de Moura dynamited, blending the crushed granite into the concrete used to construct the stadium The award jury described this structure as "muscular" and "monumental" and "at home within its powerful landscape."

It is an impressive structure. But the part of the story I found really fascinating was when the narrator suggested that it is traditional in Portugal to design these kinds of structures to allow folks who can't afford to buy a ticket and sit in the stadium to view the action from somewhere else. In this case, non-ticketholders can climb up onto the slope that borders the stadium and watch from there.

This got me thinking about the ways we gather in public spaces, and how access to public events and spaces has grown over time.

Access to the public square—from parks and playgrounds to sporting events and community centers—offers citizens a place to gather. Encouraging everyone's participation there is an essential cornerstone of a cohesive culture and a civil society, as no one group is excluded from participation in the very activities that serve to form that culture and society. De Moura and the planners of the stadium in Braga got this right.

And in a more dispersed way in our own country, the story of inclusion and access marches on, locally for the most part, as citizens work to improve access to community resources like parks and community centers, schools and colleges, trails, farmers markets, and so forth.

In the meantime, others are hard at work to create these public spaces for those who never had them before—from parks and splash play areas that serve low-income communities to playgrounds and events that celebrate citizens of all cognitive and physical abilities.

The places where we recreate and engage in sports and fitness allow us to focus on and explore our health—both as individuals and as a society. This exploration may not be explicit, but the community square—whether physical locations like parks and sports facilities, or virtual places like online communities—is where culture is built, piece by piece, game by game, interaction by interaction, over the long term. (Much of the battle to win hearts and minds over to community centers, parks and sports facilities from ever-increasing screen time illustrates the importance of examining the tools we employ to build and hand down cultural traits.)

Most of the time, we're caught up looking at trees, rather than forests, but it's fascinating to note how much of our enculturation as children, how much cultural change and how much of our engagement with culture at large is driven by our participation in these spaces.

So, let's take a moment to celebrate their deeper meaning and import. At the same time, can we very deliberately consider this question: What is next?

I'd love to know your thoughts on the meaning of access, and the ways that you work to ensure and improve access to the services and facilities you provide.


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director

Feel free to drop us a line. Any feedback is great; establishing an industry forum for the open exchange of ideas is even better. So don't be shy with your thoughts, opinions and questions. Any topic is fair game, and no query is too big or too little.

Editor's Note: In the last issue, I asked what readers thought about a blogger's complaint that fitness facilities are shooting themselves in the foot by predicating their business on quitter-members. Here's one reader's response:

If the fitness industry was truly into helping, then they would 'incentivize' attendance. Most facilities have bar code scanners when you enter, so it is easy to track attendance. So, how about if you come, for example, seven straight weeks, you get a free… (could be a training session, could be a week added to your membership, etc.)?

Moshe Wein
New York City

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