Athens Square on 30th Ave is currently closed off to the sidewalk by a tall fence while some construction work is done. It can still be accessed, via two gates round the side on 30th Street. But it is amazing how the fence changes the whole feeling of the square. One of its most effective features is the fact that it is so open to the sidewalk, so that the wide sidewalk and the square merge into one another. Let’s hope that it is not closed off for long.
Athens Square epitomizes what I call an “open geography of the street”: an environment that facilitates interaction between people. There are its benches and tables with chess boards marked on them where elderly people can while away hours right next to passers by. There are two playgrounds for older and for younger kids, the open area where community events are held (and when free from events, kids kick footballs), and the basketball courts at the back. Urban observers and writers like Jane Jacobs and William H Whyte (of the “Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”, the film of which is here) have emphasized how important this easy-mixing of people who use a space in different ways is to the smooth functioning of a neighborhood.
When kids skateboarding throughout the open area in Athens Square began to annoy other users, they weren’t just banned from the park with no place else to go. The Community Board manager at the time George Delis asked them what they would think of having a big skatepark built in Astoria Park. The park went ahead and now it is used by hundreds of skateboarders each day. Boarders Philip Sparta and Wallace de Olivera who I interviewed for this blog said they use the new Skatepark all the time. Yet significantly, they still come by Athens Square to see their friends on the basketball courts.