Why do some public projects actually make places worse rather than better?
Rabat – At first glance, Place Pietri in Rabat seems somewhat barren and dry. But after spending time there, one realizes the beauty of the open and simple space.
During the day office workers enjoy breakfast and lunch on its sunny terraces. During the evenings, children play while their parents relax and watch the sunset while drinking tea. The plaza is one story lower than the surrounding streets and sidewalk which sets up dramatic views of the art deco architecture across the plaza.
Last month I saw a construction sign for a project which would cover the plaza with an immense roof. I shared a photo of the sign with my Moroccan colleagues who agreed that this would ruin the plaza. The terraces will be in shadow, and the open views across the plaza will be blocked.
As an architect who uses the plaza for work meetings or to spend time with my own family, I feel the proposed project will result in Place Pietri losing its character as one of the most iconic plazas of Rabat.
Sadly, the restaurants and cafes will likely suffer a loss of business both during and after construction. Nobody wants to drink coffee in a cave.
This is not the only recent project that makes a place worse instead of better. Rabat’s beach, called the Plage de Rabat, was recently divided by a massive concrete wall that cuts off the promenade from the beach.
These walls now collect garbage, umbrellas, and chairs. The drop from the walkway to the sand below is dangerously high, more than two meters in some places. Ramps that funnel people onto the sand are too steep and hard to see from the beach.
Surf instructors note that the sand is being washed away from under the walls and they will eventually fall. Maybe this is for the better.
The solution is listening to people.
Projects which impact public space are not straightforward engineering tasks. Therefore the planning process should be open and transparent rather than closed and bureaucratic.
In both of these recent examples, it is evident that planners overlooked the needs and desires of people. Nobody talked to the cafe owners at Place Pietri. Nobody interviewed the surf instructors at the Plage de Rabat.
Changes to beloved public spaces require feedback from local residents and business owners in order to be successful.
Architects need to start the project by going out and asking questions. Often, the most valuable feedback will come from the very people who are least likely to have time to spare: Small business owners, workers, and their customers. Planners have to make an effort to contact the people who most use the space.
Once they understand what people want and need in a place, city planners must discuss the design in presentations that are open to the public. There should be presentations at the beginning, middle, and end of the design process. It should be clear when and where these meetings occur and how to give feedback.
Finally, it is the task of the city and its design team to determine which feedback is valid and which is not. There will always be some negative feedback, and it is impossible to make everyone happy. Thus it is important to keep the overall goals in mind and not get lost in a never-ending discussion.
Good city planning can be messy and time-consuming. Debate can go on for months or years; however, the results will be better in the long run. It is always better to go slow and get things right than to go fast and make mistakes.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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