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Time Square, New York, NY

Think of it like this:  there’s chillin’ social space and there’s buzzin’ social space.  The first one, chillin’, lets you sort of pick and choose just how much you want to interact with other people if at all.  With buzzin’ social space, on the other hand, you don’t have much of a choice—one way or another you’re going to interact.

Now, buzzin’ is actually what makes great cities great.  All that action and energy is exhilarating and it’s great for commerce, innovation, collaboration, creativity, and a lot of other stuff.  But it can also be a little overwhelming.  Even the most hardcore urbanite needs space once in a while.  And that doesn’t mean locked up in an apartment with the blinds drawn and the TV blaring.  It means outside enjoying the world without feeling like it’s on top of you.  That’s where chillin’ space comes in.

Chillin’ space is still potentially social space, but it doesn’t force the people who occupy that space to interact with one another.  It’s a more relaxed space where one can find his or her own level of comfort.

Here’s an example.  A subway car at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday is a buzzin’ social space.  You’ve got all kind of energy in there, and there’s a lot to appreciate.  There’s comedy, community, drama, suspense….  But sometimes it can be a little too much.  Sometimes, people have to put their headphones on, crank up the volume, and bury their face in a magazine.  That’s a retreat.  It happens because people are feeling an imbalance of buzzin’ social space.  They have a chillin’ social space deficiency.

An example of a chillin’ social space is a dog park.  You have options here.  You can keep to yourself, you can tell someone you like their dog, or you can start having an all out conversation with someone.  The point is it’s a public space where there are other people around, but you’re not cornered into interaction, and it’s extremely important to have such a space in any community.

On one side of the spectrum we have buzzin’.  Think of turn of the century industrial cities—people living and working extremely close together with no reprieve.  On the other side of the spectrum would be a strictly bedroom community.

Both are dysfunctional and will produce sad and troubled people.  It’s why New York needs Central Park.  It’s why suburbs need block parties and soccer games.

The trouble is that this issue tends to get clouded by politics.  People who love the wail of the sirens in the city and smell of exhaust fumes insist that it’s the best way to live.  And the people who love the isolation and supreme boredom of the suburbs are convinced it’s the only way to live.  And both, when confronted with the opposition go running and screaming in the opposite direction to prove their point.

When you look for a community to make your home or you’re planning a community, whether it’s going to be heavy on the buzz or heavy on the chill, you have got to have some balance.  That doesn’t mean equal parts both, but it does mean our communities must consider social interaction.  To not consider these things results in a backlash.

We can say that high density in the urban core is the way of the future, but we cannot rush blindly forward.  We must be aware of natural human behavior and acknowledge that people have needs and the limited space we have on this planet needs to be allocated wisely toward addressing those needs.