The Importance of a Social Hub

Parque Simon Bolivar, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

For many Western Washington University students, Red Square serves as a social hub. In this article I will state the importance of places like this across borders for students all over. Red Square is not only located basically in the center of campus, but for many it is one of the social centers as well. It serves as the simplest path from North to South campus and vice versa. It, and places like it, serve multiple functions crucial to the college experience, as well as to those interested in people watching (who isn’t?).

As a student it is necessary to understand the function of this place in order to be aware of the situations going on around you. In its function as a social hub, Red Square will often play host to various people or groups exercising free speech within its confines. With Western being so focused on offering its students a diverse, well-rounded education, it is clear that giving the students a safe space in which they can talk, exercise their right of speech, and learn from others who choose to speak out against whatever issue. This approach is not unique to Western, I have encountered spaces like this at several colleges, in other states, and even on other continents. The reason these spaces, and by extension, their purpose, matter to a student is evident to all those who so much as walk through them or spend time in them. Clearly stated above are the reasons I feel so strongly about this area, but one must only be present to see its value.

The purpose of a plaza is two-fold. First, can be the central part of a campus or town, separating one side from the other as well as being the convergence point of streets and pathways. They are also social centers in which students, staff, and passerbys alike can be seen congregating at nearly all hours of the day standing by a fountain or whatever centerpiece exists, or sitting on one of the many benches or at tables scattered throughout. In regards to the overall appearance, attention is drawn to the centerpiece; in the case of Western, this is a fountain. As stated above, Red Square and places like it are social hubs, surrounded by academic buildings in the case of on-campus plazas, or shops and parks in the case of some towns. Being engulfed by buildings is one of the ways they contribute to everyday life on a campus. It is not necessarily an institutionally forced center of social life, as one could argue that there is no drive or incentive placed upon individuals by the powers that be to use these spaces.

Personally, Red Square reminds me of several plazas I have been in in Latin America. The bricks, loose in some areas, give the entire space an old-world feel in a sense. Contrasting the school I graduated from, as well as the various plazas in the middle of parks and other green areas, the plaza is brick. While green grass and a hilly surface, or extensive landscaping is elegant and aesthetically pleasing, something about red bricks, chipped and coming out of their rightful place, brings to mind the image of an older generation, insurmountably wiser and different than my own.

When I attended boarding school, there was a lawn we called ‘the quad’. It was a square, fairly flat piece of land situated in the middle of campus surrounded on two sides by academic buildings. While it did not function as a pathway (unless you were late to class and ran across it), it did offer an outdoor center for social activity such as throwing a ball or frisbee. Red Square reminds me daily of ‘the quad’ and in my opinion comes out better in most every criteria. While it is not covered in grass, it holds a rich history of those who have walked its path and stood by its fountain in the form of its bricks that grass simply cannot contain. Plazas have this inherent affect on people. They provide different looks into the lives of others and a quiet (generally) space for meditation and thinking.

For some, Red Square, and plazas in general, may lack in certain key areas. As we are in Bellingham, critics may assert that not having any covering to protect from the rain is an oversight that needs to be corrected. While I will cede the point that for its function it does make more sense to have a covered area in place of an open plaza, I will state that the perimeter of Red Square is chalk full of covered areas and buildings in which one may escape the elements. In regards to its function as a pathway from one end of campus, and one set of academic buildings, to the other, being covered is not a necessity. We all live in Washington, deal with this weather, and enjoy the elements during the school year. My counter to this point would be, to use my experience in Colombia, plazas surrounded by parks and other greenery do not offer any protection from the elements either.

In conclusion, there is no better place on a campus nor in any other area that fulfills the purposes of these spaces. They serve as walkways that are simply the easiest path for most, and as social centers. I am excited to see what changes could be made, artwork will be added (if any), and bricks will be replaced during the rest of my time on this Earth. If it were up to me, I would add a pieces adding symmetry to the plazas which lack it. I would also only replace bricks or paths that cause a hazard to people walking carelessly along; the old, beaten bricks add a character to the entire plaza that would be lost were they to be simply replaced with new bricks.

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