Chance encounters and downtowns

Recently, Vox ran an intriguing article on the way in which our decisions on where and how to live have affected the ability to keep and maintain friendships as adults. The commentary is enlightening, touching on how the desire for private, car-centric communities inadvertently cuts us off from our fellow humans. This observation rings especially true for Central Valley cities such as Stockton, which has largely retreated from its urban core in favor of far-flung, low-density housing.

As our cities expanded, we grew further apart. And not just in distance, but because of design. In car-centric neighborhoods, even minimal distances between friends’ houses or local shops feel quite far with bulging roads and cul-de-sacs transforming even short walks in heroic odysseys. This type of design leaves interactions with our friends, neighbors and colleagues limited to planned outings. There are no “chance encounters” in neighborhoods or strip malls where walking or biking is a challenge and all errands must be completed by automobile.
But it’s exactly these types of chance encounters—running into friends on the sidewalk, in the local coffee shop, at the park, etc—that allow us to maintain healthy friendships and to build new ones. For centuries, cities were planned with central public plazas, markets, squares or other features that kept the core community close and provided ample opportunity for robust conversation and interaction with everyone. When unplanned human interaction is limited to drive-thrus and predetermined events, then all experiences with others are simply scripted and a true sense of community is lost.

How do we counteract this? Through active public spaces that allow our daily lives to be accessible by foot. And that’s exactly what you can experience in a downtown environment where bumping into colleagues casually on the street or in a restaurant during lunch is a common occurrence. These unexpected interactions create a shared sense of community that enriches the lives of everyone involved.

And in Downtown Stockton, while housing is still on the horizon, you can already enjoy these chance encounters today. It’s something we at Ten Space experience all of the time when walking in the neighborhood between meetings or showing spaces. Whether these encounters lead to a quick, friendly “hello” or a prolonged, engaging conversation, the opportunity to interact with our neighbors provides an intangible social benefit to the individual and the community. In our region, places that foster healthy, vibrant socializing on a regular basis are quite rare, but are key in the revival of the Central Valley. If we want to heal our cities, we need to start with the reinvigoration of our downtowns. And that’s what Ten Space is committed to.