Since the rise of democracy in ancient Greece, city squares have been gathering spaces for community discussion and debate. Throughout history, these public urban spaces have been crucial to developing a sense of community in bustling metropolises, and many have been host to historic moments. From Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa, the essays in City Squares summarize the importance of some of the world’s most iconic plazas. With contributions from 18 writers including Adam Gopnik and Zadie Smith, City Squares was compiled by Catie Marron, a trustee of the New York Public Library and contributing editor at Vogue. Here, Indagare speaks with Marron about her new book and the role technology plays in documenting social movements.
How do you see the importance of city squares continuing/evolving in a future seemingly more and more rife with uprisings, democracy movements and social media–fueled gatherings? My family just returned from our summer holiday in Europe. While there and on the same time zone, I watched the attempted coup unfold in Istanbul. The cameras and commentators kept zoning in on the pro-Erdogan demonstrations in Taksim Square where, ironically, a mass uprising against him occurred just three years ago. A chapter on that is included in the book's part on Geopolitics. As the significance of the "virtual square" is expanding, I thought it was important to include a chapter on it as well. What I learned from this and the chapters on recent uprisings, such as those in Kiev, Cairo and Istanbul, is that social media calls people to the square, it announces and broadcasts the movements, but the action, the mass movements, happen in the square, not over the internet.
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As I began City Squares, my premise was that public squares play a major role in world history and culture. Each square and writer are site specific with a highly individual point of view. Collectively, they've confirmed and enhanced my perception more than I'd imagined and in ways I'd never guessed.
How did you choose the authors whose essays are included in your compendium? Choosing the authors was a fun challenge. I chose the square first, each hopefully representing a broader theme in public life, then asked a writer whose background and style I thought would match the subject as best as possible. The one country where we had starts and stops and the most difficult time was, oddly enough, America.
Where and what do you dream of exploring next? Over time, I've realized that my interests and work over the last 15 years have revolved around free public spaces. Having been board chair of The New York Public Library and now of the High Line, both of which are free to all, and with my books on city parks and city squares, I've come to appreciate the value of these open spaces, especially in dense urban life. They've inspired me to dream about and figure out how to use this background to do whatever I can for the public good.
What has been your most transformative travel moment? Prosaic as it sounds, I'd say my most transformative travel moment was visiting the Luxembourg Gardens during my first trip to Paris when I was 23. I was so moved by its beauty and humanity that it became my favorite place in the world. I'd make a "pilgrimage" there on every trip, and as I continued to travel, I sought out and came to love other European parks as well. The only other place that vies with it for my favorite ever is the romantic Gardens of Ninfa, two hours south of Rome. That too was transformative; it felt like paradise on Earth.
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