Got square?

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The public square is the heart of any city. It’s the IRL gathering place. I have long loved Kitchener’s square, connected as it is to City Hall: the building for the people. I’m getting to like and know better Cambridge’s public square in front of City Hall on Dickson Street, bounded by beautiful heritage buildings. And then there’s the public square in my city: Waterloo. It’s a block from City Hall and fronts a shopping mall. It’s a bit small and still awaits the water feature deferred in 2009 after cost overruns. But it’s ours! Only 7 years ago it was a parking lot and now we have something better.

I camp here frequently, camera ready, and slow-watch life unfold. I’ve photographed amazing jugglers here and skaters of both kinds. I’ve also made unreasonably loud animal noises in the square. I’m not a big fan of the big fests, preferring to come around just any old day. It’s interesting to watch the emergent behaviour within the square, the unstructured play.

As I sit and watch, I think about how I can contribute to make this better. And my thoughts range from the pragmatic to the aspirational. I don’t want to burn energy complaining, but rather focus on what could be. To that end, yesterday I walked a couple blocks up from Distillery Labs to the square with my bag lunch and just observed for an hour. In that time, I met and shot Will (above, thanks dude). My friend and Record photog David Bebee passed by on assignment and we had a brief chat.

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I saw Mark Connolly from Boltmade walk by with a colleague and that made me wonder if I could apply some user experience design techniques here.

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I saw friends meeting up on bikes. Suits running lunchtime errands. Laptoppers at the tables as well as reluctant shoppers waiting for their partners to emerge. I saw a visiting family taking a souvenir portrait on the mall steps. I saw panhandlers and a street preacher.

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And I saw one very confused cabbie.

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In the spirit of fact-based decision making, I happily busted my pre-conceived notion that “nobody” uses the square. Not true. Now I know something from firsthand observation. It occurred to me that now, given the construction chaos, now is a great time to experiment with the square. I love that Willis Way is cut off to traffic at King so I can walk uninterrupted up the street. It’s interesting how the construction fences and foot passages push us all a little closer together so we might say hello.

I’m going back on Friday. Please do come over to my bench and watch with me. I’m the guy with the giant camera not spacing out on his phone.

At King and Willis Way, this is Waterloo.


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