Tidal Shift: Redirecting the Current of Public Space

By Joey Phoenix

Third Places are at the forefront of our communities. They are integral to the culture, the life, the ebb and flow of our cities. Yet, they’re often underutilized and taken for granted.

That is, unless they have advocates.

In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Space,” two waiters argue over whether or not to kick out a slightly inebriated old man who has stayed long past closing time. The younger of the two believes that they should kick this man out right away. It’s late, he’s tired, and he just wants to go home to his wife. However, the older of the two is hesitant, because he knows the old man has had a rough time and sitting in the light of the café at night brings him solace that he can no longer find at home.

Eventually, the older waiter says to the younger, “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the cafe.”


Ray Oldenburg, author of The Great Good Place defined the concept of a Third Place as having a few distinct characteristics. A Third Place is neutral ground that must be free or inexpensive, highly accessible, welcoming, comfortable, and have recurring visitors. This “Place” can be a park, a café, or a farmer’s market — to paraphrase Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo:

It’s a place where everybody knows your name.

Claudia Paraschiv, founder of the Salem Public Space Project, has spent the last several years dedicating herself to the study of these unique spaces, and has brought her discoveries and artistic talent to a number of local endeavors. She first made waves in Salem with the 2014 Salem Arts Festival installation of HulaArt, where dozens of hoops made an interwoven archway over Artist’s Row. She followed up this feat with the 2016 Salem Arts Festival installation Move With Me, which showcased more than 350 pinwheels flying over Front Street, transforming the downtown district into something magical. Yet, her personal journey extends back much further than that.

Falling in Love with Public Spaces

Claudia moved with her family from Romania to the States for political asylum when she was only 7 years old. Her family initially settled in Los Angeles, and she attempted to mold herself into a young American.


She ended up going to school for architecture at USC, before graduating in 2005 and starting to work with high-end design firms, which grew old quickly. “The realization came when I had a client get upset that she couldn’t afford the $20,000 bathtub and had to settle for the $16,000 one.”

Eschewing the luxury attitudes of the LA super-wealthy in search of something more meaningful, she packed her bags and headed east to attend grad school at MIT.

“Architecture school is really a trade school — you don’t get that much theory — and I wanted to get more theory.” she said. “So I came east to MIT wanting to see how design could do more social good.”

A Discovery of Third Place

It was during her interim at MIT that Claudia’s perspective truly began to shift regarding public space, and it had a lot to do with how she felt as her identity as an immigrant. “We moved [to the U.S.] for political asylum two months before the wall fell. At that point, I just tried to fit in and tried to become American and for a long time I tried to hide my Romanian-ness,” she explained.

“In one of my first classes at MIT we had to draw an entire city in order to understand its urban growth from inception to present day,” she recalled. “I literally drew all of Bucharest. I chose Bucharest because I wanted to get to know it.”

This project reminded her of how important a city landscape is to the people who live in a place and call it their home, which caused her to look deeper.

“I became passionate about the confluence of the economic, the social, the cultural, the political, the environmental — all of these issues that make up a city and ultimately all of these issues play out the most in public space.” Since her study of Bucharest had been so enlightening, she decided to then turn the magnifying glass to her second home, Los Angeles.

“Everyone kept saying ‘LA has no public spaces,’ because there’s this idea that LA is just car culture, and it’s not.” She decided to write her thesis on LA farmers’ markets, because she believed them to be the perfect example of what a Third Place actually is.

“A Third Place, in urban planning or urban design, is not just a private space, or a strictly public space, it’s a place where people gather traditionally like sidewalk cafés, etc.,” she explained.

“The LA farmers’ markets were these great spaces where all of a sudden the busy street is taken over by pedestrians, or the empty parking lot is now thriving, and kids are chalk coloring on asphalt, and people are doing things that are not traditionally done there.”

Urban Interventions from Barcelona to the Point

After graduation, and tired of the “no loitering” signs which marked most of the American public spaces, Claudia headed to Barcelona to spend 5 months working with Architects without Borders.

It was there that she developed one of her first urban interventions: public space trading cards (a project she is continuing in Salem.) She initially came up with the idea when she saw some local kids trading soccer cards.


“I categorized all the different spaces in the neighborhood and the idea was that if you go each space and you count how many trees, how many benches, and different things and then you would get more cards.”

Bolstered by her experience, she returned to the States eager to look for ways to raise awareness about the importance of public spaces. She also needed a job. She started working at an architecture firm in Boston to put some money in the bank, all the while looking for ways to use her newfound knowledge for social good.

Then she had an idea.

She went to her bosses and told them that she needed to have Thursday afternoons off, because she wanted to volunteer at the Salem Farmers’ market. To her great surprise, they said yes.

Following that, in 2012, to balance her busy work schedule with what she actually wanted to do, she started the Salem Public Space Project. In doing so, she turned her attentions to the Point. “Everyone told me not to go there. They said it was so scary.” She said, laughing.

“Share a Chair”

For her first project in the Point, she and her husband Michael Jaros, professor of Drama and English at Salem State, collected 9 street chairs over the course of a couple of months. She then painted to them with the goal of gifting them to Mary Jane Lee Park.

“I had this idea of putting chairs in Mary Jane Lee Park because the benches had been recently taken away by the city,” she explained, “So I thought let’s gift these chairs to the space!

Michael invited some of his students to participate in the gifting, many of whom had never been to the Point before, and they did a poetry reading. Claudia came back the next day to check on them, only to discover that the chairs were curiously lined up in a row.

“A little girl was there who had been at the poetry reading. And she said ‘we brought them here because the big kids threw one of them and we wanted to save them.’ it was so cute.”

On the third day, Claudia returned to see the majority of the chairs in broken shards all over the park. It was a shock. “It was this realization that I had just done this, just plopped them into a neighborhood. I didn’t really have connections in the neighborhood. I knew that if I were to do something like this again I would need to build relationships first.”

The following year she was able to do just that with Reimagine a Lot — a 50 foot interactive project wall in an empty lot in one of Salem’s densest neighborhoods encouraging residents to suggest what they would like the Palmer lot to become.

Soon afterwards, Claudia began to volunteer for the Salem Arts Festival, and mustered up the courage to quit her day job.

With no immediate prospects, Claudia went home to Romania to spend a month with her grandmother, before starting an artist residency program in Dorchester, which was a challenging but rewarding experience for her.

“I’ve continued to do projects there after my residency ended,” she explained, “but the big thing is that it gave me the courage I needed to say I’m gonna stop trying to find the perfect job, and I’m just going to create it.”

Designing Tidal Shift


When Claudia first began volunteering for the Salem Arts Festival in 2012, she had a couple of important things on her mind.

“When I joined the committee one of the things I was really passionate about was artists getting paid, even if it’s a token. And then the other thing I really wanted was for there to be a tradition of participatory community art where the community makes it and it’s not just plopped down from outside.”

Thus HulaArt was born, which proved to be a massive success. The following year the community art installation “Front Yard Street Art” was headed by Kate Babcock. Then last year Claudia was at the helm of the magical pinwheel based installation “Move With Me.”

This year, Claudia’s partnered with — in addition to local partners in the City of Salem, Creative Salem, Salem Main Streets, and the Salem Arts Festival itself — Salem Sound Coastwatch and From the Bow Seat to create Tidal Shift.

She, her team, and the community will be making a veritable ocean of jellyfish to fly over Front Street, using little more than plastic bags.

“With this years project I really wanted to get much more, to make it more meaningful beyond the art itself. I wanted it to be participatory so that’s it’s democratic, to get as many people as possible, definitely transform the space — that’s really important. But now what will be the greater meaning behind this? Is it promoting stewardship? Is it somehow engaging with some of the big issues that exist in our world?”



How the Community Can Help

“Really what I need is for everyone to make a jellyfish.” She tells me, matter of factly. “Also, for everyone to donate clean plastic bags.”

Claudia will be hosting jellyfish making workshops all over Salem in the next few months, and she wants everyone who wants to help to be a part of this.

“I mean plastic bags don’t seem like a big deal, but they’re an enormous deal.” She explains.

For more information on the project please visit the Tidal Shift website

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