How Winter Holidays Activate Public Space
While it’s often cold and snowy, or grey and dreary, across the Northern Hemisphere during the holiday season, inclement weather doesn’t prevent a huge increase in public space activation at this time of year. Public plazas and parks often see more life in December and January than on warm and bright summer days. How can cities learn year-round from the active, thriving public life that occurs in urban spaces each holiday season?
New Year’s Eve
From New York’s famed ball drop, to 2-million person dance parties in Sao Paolo, to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve bring huge crowds into the public sphere. The only way to make space for them is to close major roads to cars. Despite increased traffic around the city as people travel to and from celebrations, closing major arterials to create larger public realms is a popular New Year’s Eve choice that proves traffic flow isn’t seriously impeded by making space for people!
A German tradition, the Christmas Market has recently found life in North American cities, like Vancouver and Toronto. Usually operating in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the “Christkindlmarkt” has been a public space tradition since the middle ages, with markets being documented as far back as 1384. Clearly this is a long tested way to activate a plaza. While sometimes these markets charge an entry fee, making the space less public than it usually is, they are fantastic at activating plazas that are often empty in the winter months. The combination of performance spaces and carousels, stalls for goods and gifts, and festive food and drinks draws huge crowds with a shared interest in the holiday spirit.
The simplest of the winter public space installations is the activation of public space through lights and art. From the interactive to the static, the many lights and decorations draw people into the street and encourage them to linger. The number of ways to enjoy lighting displays is constantly growing: Holiday light trains drive coast to coast to raise money for local food banks, 500 000 lights are installed on a walking path made for Instagram stories. How can we capture the magic of these lights year round?