The Nagoya University lawn as a successful public space, and as an unsuccessful one
The lawn at the university at which I studied in Japan is not the most attractive place. It is just a large patch of (chemically enhanced) grass dead center on campus, surrounded on all four sides by streets that tend to generate a lot of traffic throughout the day. It shuts down two weeks each year for upkeep, but no one dares near it for another two for good measure (because of the pesticides.) It offers no protection from the sun in the summer or the wind in the winter. Yet in the fall and spring, there is hardly a moment throughout the day that the lawn is void of students, families, large groups, couples, or stragglers.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the lawn is its convenient location. From any building on Campus it takes merely 5 minutes by foot to reach, yet it is removed enough from the buildings to offer a sense of distance (and therefore comfort) from professors and work, similar to the office workers Whyte describes as using plazas further from their offices to distance themselves from their bosses.
Not only is the lawn conveniently situated on campus, it is also a vast, open space, that allows anyone sitting on it to witness the cars and students rushing by on the concrete just below while still feeling the removed sense of escape. The lawn is small enough that anyone on it can see the activities of the others on it, which gives it a social feel, but it is large enough for groups to spread out and feel a sense of removal and privacy. It’s flat, open space, not disturbed by trees or benches, so it doesn’t have any advantageous areas, except perhaps near the middle where the sense of removal from the rest of the world is the strongest.
Weather permitting, the lawn has similar day-to-day rhythms each season. It tends to be empty during the summer and winter, while during the fall it is filled with various people throughout the day. When I wasn’t part of one of the lawn groups, I would often pass the lawn on my way to and from class or home, and see the patterns of people who utilized it. In the mornings, there were often students in twos and threes drinking coffee and reading, probably working on homework due later in the day. Lunchtime brought with it larger groups eating and talking together. In the afternoon, when school for most children was finished, families would take over, often with small children or dogs that needed the space that the lawn provided to run free.
In the early evening, there would be a few stragglers, talking on the phone or staring into space. Sometimes there would be couples sitting together further away from the main street, towards a line of bushes that marked the back edge of the lawn.
In the evening: couples, or stragglers, talking on the phone or sitting doing nothing, perhaps resting after a long day of work or classes.
At night the students would reclaim the lawn, and my friends and I were often among the hoards that would take over various sections. We would play games, music, or just sit around talking. Close to the dorms, removed from the classrooms, open and yet private— the noise and deadlines of the outside world are distant, and the lawn, like the plaza, is a safe place.
(Image is my own)