Intro to My Own Analysis on William H Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces in Princeton, New Jersey

My college friend had to watch this absolutely stunning 80s film for her cities class and as I viewed these nostalgic and sterile clips I found a complete connection to my own viewership in my hometown of Princeton, NJ. All though there are a lot of public small spaces in Princeton similar to the ones Whyte examined, I will be focusing on three in particular: Woodrow Wilson School and the Fountain of Freedom or “Woody Woo”, Hinds Plaza on Witherspoon Street, and Palmer Square. 

This post is a good example of writing about the spaces part of the name in Stories Dreams & Spaces.

I want to note that this post here is merely an introduction to my exploration, I want to be able to examine these spaces closely and in person, which requires me to be back in Princeton obviously. But until I go back “home”, I think it is at least worth noting the connection between these three spaces and Whyte’s film. So much like my book reviews on this blog, this introduction will only be a brief review. 

Most specifically the space I connected to the most with regards to the film was Woody Woo. Definitely the biggest connection to the movie, I found it could be looked at in the lens that many of his categories explore: the usage of trees, sit-able areas, water, etc. While for right now I will not be diving into the specific technicalities I will say the nostalgia of this 80s film reminded me of the nostalgia I had with this fountain. Before a swimming spot was merely a google away, Woody Woo was where all the local children would go to cool off. You’d meet a vast array of people as you swam/waded in the shallow and (probably filthy) fountain water. But you’d also bask in the complete joy of interacting with this space that seemed like a magical realm for a child. Now, even as a 20-year-old, I find myself pulled back to the fountain with its vast array of sit-able spaces, tree cover, and division yet inclusion from the busy road parallel.

I plan on exploring the specifics of Hinds Plaza and Palmer Square when I am able to physically observe the spaces some more. So let this be an inspiration for a new prescription of glasses I can use when I head back to Princeton. My friend kept remarking on how Whyte’s interruptions were so true yet mostly go unnoticed throughout our lives. Yet as someone who has always found a deep connection to what he refers to as “small urban spaces”, I found Whyte’s film to be liberating. For the first time, I heard words and saw images that summed up my own opinion on these spaces.

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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