It's amazing how inside-out spaces fulfill our social longings, provide our material needs and forge community connections that make us stronger—the equivalent of a thriving ecosystem in the wilds. This is what Jane Jacobs, using a different metaphor, called "the sidewalk ballet" where the movements of many individuals come together to a create a powerful shared experience.

Here is a photo essay sharing great examples from around the world where indoor private life meet the outdoor public realm.

A bookshop that became an international neighborhood hub

Shakespeare and Company in Paris, serving English-language literary lovers since 1951, includes a year-round outdoor cafe that functions in all seasons. The outside of the shop buzzes with people meeting, searching through the stands or eating lunch.

Sidewalk displays bring the streets to life

Throughout the world shops display vegetables, pastries, fruits, fish, candy and other treats to entice customers. How products are presented is key to the success of the social experience. Careful presentations of these goods in baskets, bins and tables is an art form that pays off in sales.

Store windows bring the inside out

Shop windows create an ambience that is just as important to the store's success as the design and displays inside.

The unifying power of ice cream

What is it about ice cream? It's a way for people, whatever their age, to share something with their families when out for a stroll or meeting with friends.

It's all happening on the steps

Steps allow people to participate in a place and it gives them legitimacy to be there. Some steps introduce important destinations, like this church in Barcelona (just below left). In a square of Seville (just below right), steps provide a meeting and resting spot for everyone . In New York's Bryant Park (lower left), steps delineate the cafe and restaurant spaces from the main green space. Rome's famous Spanish Steps (lower right) are one of the city's most famous landmarks.

A front "porch" attracts more life to public buildings

Public Buildings like the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris (just below left) use their forecourt as a way of showcasing the special activities that go on throughout the city. Sand was trucked in here to create volley ball courts, publicizing the city's annual summer pop-up beach "Paris Plage" on the riverfront. Melbourne's Federation Square (just below right) is the epicenter of public events and sport tournaments. In Barcelona, the entrance piazza to Gaudi's Parc Guell (lower right) is the gateway to one of the great park experiences in the world. In a twist, the "porch" at New York's Metropolitan Museum actually brings the "outside in" with an indoor space used for special events and socializing.

Stands and stalls are perfect for browsing

New York's Bryant Park (just below left) hosts a wide range of amenities including a free "Outdoor Reading Room". People can peruse books, newspapers or games—and there is a children's reading room too. In Madrid, Spain (just below right) there is an open-air bookstore packed with books, postcards and etchings. At closing time, the shutters come down. In Paris, there is a long tradition of book stalls (lower) along the Seine near Notre Dame Cathedral.

Food carts boost small business and social life

Throughout the world, there are a wide range of moveable vehicles that give food merchants and cooks a less expensive way to launch a business . They serve coffee, crepes, hot dogs, tacos, ice cream, eggrolls, ears of corn, chestnuts, hot soup and anything else that appeals to hungry passers-by.

Street performers showcase local talent

Street performers enliven cities around the globe, making people happy but also supporting artists of all kinds. (The Grammy-winning blues star Sugar Blue was "discovered" by Mick Jagger playing harmonica on a Paris streetcorner.) In Buenos Aires (just below left and right), drummers, tango dancers and other entertainers appear on a street called Pasaje de la Defensa to strut their stuff. In Barcelona (lower), portrait artists cluster along one stretch of the Rambla pedestrian street.

Street Life Thrives in the Historic Center of Istanbul

The street life of Middle Eastern bazaars is the epitome of exciting urban culture.

Let’s Turn Buildings Inside-Out
Bringing the inside out onto the sidewalk blurs the lines between public and private space, creating one dynamic, thriving ecosystem.
The Home-Based Work Place— Rediscovering an Old Idea
Mixed use buildings thrive in Italy, with the family-owned shop downstairs being a staple of the community and local economy
A “Porch” on Every Building: How Bringing the Inside Out Creates Vibrant Communities
The way to make a building come alive is to activate its ground floor - the place where it makes contact with community life.

Further Reading:

11 Transformative Agendas to Restore Social Life in Your Community
These transformative agendas can be a foundation for the future and a roadmap for communities to improve the “places” and after COVID, Build Back Better that can help us with ideas to shape our communities for the future.
Porch Life: Building Social Neighborhoods
As “in-between” spaces, porches create a soft edge that mediates between individual and community, public and private, and in these times, offer a safe way to maintain our social, mental and physical health.
Building Back Better, Together: 10 Ways to Restoring Social Connections and Local Economies
How do we “tip-toe” our way back to a flourishing social life, capitalizing on local knowledge to make sensible choices about how to reopen our communities by involving local people in the decisions.
To Save the Planet, Start With the Social Life of Sidewalks
Rich street life is no frill. It is an expression of the most ancient function of a city—a place for people to come together, all kinds of people, face-to-face. — William “Holly” Whyte
The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities.

If you are interested in collaborating (articles, presentations, exhibits, projects, and more) or supporting the cause contact us.
Share this post