May 2009 – The rich and abundant restaurant and café culture in Buenos Aires is truly amazing. These social spaces stay open until the late hours of the night, providing an opportunity for social gathering all throughout the day and into the night. Pleasant cafes, charming restaurants, laid back drinkeries and festive dance halls – this is the kind of exciting public realm I’ve come to enjoy during my time in Buenos Aires.
The home as a space for social gathering isn’t always easy in the apartment style living of Buenos Aires, so groups of friends prefer to pack into restaurants, cafés and bars to hang out and socialize. This brings people out from the private spaces of personal homes and into the social spaces of the public realm. This shift from private to public places an emphasis on the quality and warmth of the social spaces within the city.
From my experience, these same spaces in the U.S seem to focus more on consumption and speedy delivery rather than richness of space. Coffee in the U.S is served in massive on-the-go cups from cafés that are often designed to keep customer traffic flowing smoothly rather than to create a space for interesting social interaction. Restaurants and bars often pay more attention to the act of eating food and getting drunk rather than offering an inviting space for people to enjoy each other’s company. I’m not saying that wonderful cafés, restaurants and bars don’t exist in the U.S, because they absolutely do, I’m simply pointing out that there is a strong proliferation of institutions in the U.S that focus on product rather than space.
Even my university is plagued from a lack of quality indoor social space which is a problem during the dark and cold winter months. Despite all of the incredible programs and students services provided by the University of Pittsburgh, the school doesn’t offer students enough indoor spaces to gather, socialize and co-create. When the weather is pleasant, the campus comes alive and is full of exciting energy but all of this energy becomes dormant during the winter and the full potential for student co-creation and student interaction is lost. We’re missing out on something.
This shortage of social space on my university campus is a point of frustration for me so it feels liberating that Buenos Aires offers a diverse variety of fun and exciting social spaces.
When I go back home, I’ll be under the legal drinking age so I’m going to lose the ability to go for a casual drink with friends at any moment in the evening. I’m going to miss sharing a café con leche and media lunas with a friend between classes or talking over a few beers in bars designed for socializing rather than binge drinking. Living a public life upon an urban playground of enchanting social spaces is something that I have truly come to love about my life in Buenos Aires.
At their very core, cities are enormous playgrounds for human interaction. We should strive to strengthen the public realms of our cities whether through cafés, restaurants, parks, plazas or new and unique forms of social space. An unexpected lesson from Buenos Aires is that maybe the trick to successful urban planning is a table, two chairs and a bottle of wine.