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The Essential Public Spaces of a Leading Social Anthropologist

We’re chatting with city-building leaders about the public spaces they find themselves returning to, and why.

A wave statue at Halifax's waterfront

Published on November 09, 2021

We’re asking — what makes a great public space? 

In our ongoing Essential Public Spaces series, we’re chatting with city-building leaders about the public spaces they find themselves returning to, and why. Whether it’s a park around the corner or a boulevard in major city, it’s often small touches or choices that make the place special to them. 

Earlier this year, we asked our Chief Program Officer Orit Sarfaty for her top-five spaces. This month, we sat down with social anthropologist Martha Radice, whose work focuses on the social, spatial and dynamics of cities. 

Now an associate professor at Dalhousie University, Radice’s research has covered how people use Montréal’s multiethnic neighbourhood commercial streets, how public art changes public spaces in Canadian cities, and how people work to make carnival happen in New Orleans, among other topics.

We spoke with her about spaces in Halifax that bring people together, connect them to nature, and allow for a sense of play. Plus, she gave us one international example she loves for its moveable furniture. See if you can guess where it is! 

Halifax's central library, a geometric glass structure

The Halifax Central Library 

“It opened in 2014, and it’s really become a hub in the city. When they were designing it, they did a lot of public consultation, both with open meetings where anyone could come and speak, and meetings with local organizations, like the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, to ensure the space would meet the needs of different communities. Now it has so many different features — a music studio, a fantastic children’s area, a local history area, a maker space, resources for people who are under or unhoused — it has space for everyone.” 

Point Pleasant Park in Halifax

Point Pleasant Park 

“Point Pleasant Park is located at the tip of the peninsula, and it’s a wonderful way to access nature and the ocean from the city. Being able to go to a quiet public place where you can listen to the sound of water is wonderful. There are several beaches, wooded areas, and the whole space is important for releasing stress, especially during the pandemic.” 

A sculpture of a wave on Halifax's waterfront

The Wave, Donna Hiebert 

“There’s this public art sculpture, The Wave, on the Halifax waterfront, and it’s such a great example of people engaging and playing with public art. People run up to it and slide down it — it shows how public art can be subversive, designed for one thing and then used for another. It’s important to have access to playful spaces.”

A memorial statue at Fort Needham Memorial Park, in Halifax

Fort Needham Memorial Park 

“A lot of these choices are shaped by where I’ve lived. For instance, I live around the corner from Fort Needham Park, and there is a playground where the play equipment is constructed from natural features. There are wooden structures to play on, but also things like musical instruments that children can use, percussive things kids can make noises with — it’s just a great example of place-based design.” 

People walking down a broad boulevard

La Rambla, Barcelona 

“One thing that existed in the city where I grew up — Leeds, in the North of England — is pedestrian shopping streets. A great example of one is La Rambla in Barcelona. You have this long long pedestrianized street, and one of the things that struck me when I was there was that the street furniture can be rearranged to suit the needs of the people using the space. You can have a little group of people pulling chairs together to sit down and have a chat, or you can move a chair to be on your own. You can have the pleasure of sitting and people-watching, or the fun of being part of the parade of people that is being watched, all while in public space.”