The Civic Center, in our current age, is much less than “civic” and hardly at all a “center.”  The misnomer “Civic Center” results from the good intentions of this building typology as a center for civic activity.  And while traditional “Civic Centers” provide open spaces for “civic” activities, the idea of a center for civic activities can be taken much further today.

The Civic Center must first and foremost be a “center.”  If we think of a center, it is a place by which objects from different directions converge or it is the implied point a perimeter/edge condition establishes.  Civic centers today suffer from a lack of accessibility and openness, being closed off for specific events solely, removing them of life and activity for the majority of their existence.  Thus the city’s understanding of this typology becomes one of a “gymnasium” or usable shed, removing it of its politically and culturally important goals.  More importantly, when combined with the values of “civic,” the center should take on a prominent role in the everyday lives of the city’s inhabitants.

There are a number of ways the “Civic Center” can become a vehicle that promotes civic interaction and provides an identity to the city.  First, the “Civic Center” can become a place for buying and selling.  There is nearly no activity closer related to “civic” than this, as it is a direct exchange between two citizens for the fulfillment of individual needs.  Supporting a farmer’s market, whether indoor or outdoors, supports civic activity.  Furthermore, the Civic Center should be conceived as an indoor Piazza, an urban condition by which businesses, offices, and residential apartments create the Civic Center envelope, a modern day Piazza del Campo.  This new typology provides interaction at all times of the day and creates a diverse aesthetic supportive of the diversity of civic gatherings.  By creating the enclosure from a variety of programs, the “Civic Center” takes on a layering of activity, further becoming a place of civic activity, one where buying, selling, story telling, gossiping, politicizing, and community activism among others occur simultaneously.

The new Civic Center should be open at nearly all times of the day, having public paths, like interior streets, that stay open for retail activities and entertainment even when programmed events are not occurring.  These streets, like the Galleria in Milan, Italy, provide a comfortable, light filled urban experience.

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