Gathering Texas: Evaluating The Socio-Cultural Performance Of Urban Public Spaces In The Lone Star State
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The past two decades in Texas have seen emergent interest in urban public life, with many new or renovated public spaces — streets, squares, and urban parks — taking shape. In a state with a history of conflicting cultures and automobile-oriented city-building, and in an age of digitalization, physical public spaces represent a unique opportunity: to gather people of different types and backgrounds in a way that encourages tolerance, understanding, civic pride and engagement, to speak of the cultural heritage and aspirations of a place, and to provide a true sense of “dwelling.” This thesis assesses how effectively the most exemplary recent public spaces in Texas take advantage of that opportunity. My analysis takes the form of four case studies: Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Sundance Square Plaza in Fort Worth, Second Street in Austin, and Discovery Green in Houston. I employ both a psycho-philosophical and a sociological lens, exploring the subjective, experiential phenomenology and objective behavioral and demographic patterns of each. I then identify urban design strategies that appear to be most successful in contributing to welcoming, relevant public spaces. By conducting a retrospective study as this first generation of new public spaces begins to mature, I present further evidence for their worth and guide ongoing development of places that fulfill a role as a social and cultural focus, literally and figuratively “gathering” Texas.