Area blogger Samantha Moller sends this dispatch on a common, mournful observation.


North Americans on vacation are charmed by old cities but they are not always able to explain what they like best about their visit to places like Paris, Buenos Aires or Seville. They do share some obvious critical factors of urban planning that also explain why some North American cities like New York, New Orleans or Boston are sometimes described as “European” in character.

The foundation for the similarity is the extensive use of shared public spaces. Most European cities also have small apartments the same way New York is known for small living spaces. These apartments may not be air conditioned and likely have tiny kitchens that are not suitable for entertaining. Consequently, you meet your friends outside. For many that means outdoor eateries, front stoops, public parks or museums, and the city itself becomes an extension of your living room.


Plaza Mayor - Madrid Spain

Plaza Mayor, Madrid – classy


Corona_AfterCorona Plaza, Queens – cheap and cheerful


This key difference means that most North American cities feel dead compared to a city designed for shared public space. The public spaces in North America are to be moved through rather than a place to congregate.

Most people entertain in their homes rather than meeting out. This means there is little outdoor nightlife or cheerful music. Walking into the nightlife of a typical Spanish city is exciting for a North American – the music and vibrancy of people gathered to talk and dance and smoke and eat and flirt and be seen is friendly and engaging.

Instead, many North Americans returning home, charmed to pieces by their stay in Venice or Paris, simply can not fathom transferring any of those elements to their home soil. I mean, plaza cafes are nice and all, but where the hell would you park?



Chinatown, Edmonton – go ahead, sit anywhere