authors | January 23, 2013

Teju Cole: Public Spaces Are Like Lungs—They Let The City Breathe

"For me, the point of public space is that it needs to be something that is open to all kinds of people, to all classes," Teju Cole, author of Open City, says in a recent interview. Making effective use of public spaces is crucial, he adds, given that cities are, by definition, crowded places. There are millions of people living in the same small area and it's important that they feel comfortable in the spaces they share with others. It is in these public spaces that we intersect and interact with the people all around us.

In Open City, which was named as a best book to over 20 prestigous end-of-the-year lists), the main character traipses around the public spaces of Manhattan. He reflects on his life and encounters numerous people that change his perspective while wandering around the city. As Cole says in the interview, public spaces provide a snapshot of what people do when they slow down from their daily hustle-and-bustle. Cole says that one of the most fascinating public spaces in the city is Central Park. The park acts as the "lungs of the city," because it allows the city to "breathe". People go there to walk around, go for a run, or just to relax and forget the daily stresses in their lives. Or, like Open City's main character Julius, they deeply reflect on their lives from a new perspective.

Public spaces tend to be the most effective when they are inclusive. When everyone feels that they are welcome there, he says, they function much better. He gives the example of a museum in New York that chose not to ban skateboarding on its front steps as an example. "What's inside the museum is art," he says. "What's outside is life, and we don't want that to be barren." Cole was recently named as one of New York's 100 Most Important Living Writers by Flavorwire. His unique style of storytelling is as effective on the page as it is in front of live audiences, where he is able to draw people in and leave them with resonating takeaways.

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leadership | January 22, 2013