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This week’s edition!

Turning spare space into a thriving community gallery 

Guest column by Briana Hilton

LEWISTON, AUBURN, ME — Lewiston-Auburn has a relatively mature population in terms of age. As the Sun Journal highlights, planning for later life has become a key step for many residents, and the community as a whole has a responsibility to provide support and steps to care for this invaluable section of society. The city and its community have already taken significant strides towards this with the decision of the referendum at Lewiston High School creating specific room for adult and senior learning, and there are now spaces being outlined for the use of the entire community in the future. With that in mind, it’s worth considering what can make a community space a worthwhile area, starting with considering creativity.

 Introducing creativity 

A shared communal space needs to have a purpose – especially one that places a focus on that community and its adult citizens. That purpose can be communicated through its creative design, and this nod is especially important if the area is designed for creative uses. Consider, for instance, the use of sculptures, both metal and otherwise.

 As ArchDaily notes, sculptures shape urban areas. As well as acting as a focal point, they can reflect and present the values of the town and its people. Some of the most famous sculptures do exactly this. Take, for instance, Barbara Hepworth’s Summer Dance, which reflects the cultural and historical ties of its host towns of Cornwall to the ancient links of the region. Artwork should mean something. As it happens, the industrial and farming history of Lewiston-Auburn is a great basis for the use of metal sculptures. Twisted and sculpted metals can easily provide a fantastic icon which harks back to the golden era of the twin cities, and will be a focal artistic point for an area with real purpose. 

Making it utilitarian 

It’s important that any plans have an edge to them that will lend itself to the educational and vocational development of adults. Given, a public gallery and community space will already provide the community with some big benefits, ranging from the active space to be used through to the creativity such a space fosters. However, it must also be there for active use and cannot simply be something to look at.

 A simple way to manage this is through providing ample sitting space – both conventional (in the forms of benches and such) and improved (such as stone steps, plinths and fountains). This is another great area to get creative with. Dezeen highlights one sunken garden design used in Los Angeles, where shade can be taken from the sun and a distinctly green aspect given to any learning or other engagement. This is a great way to provide inspiration and make an area feel fully sheltered. 

Ensuring inclusivity 

Lewiston-Auburn is one of the most creatively dense places anywhere in the country, defined by the amount of public viewable artwork and creations in and around the city. You might not know this, however, if you have any form of motor disability; according to Bates University, the accessibility that enables everyone to view these works of art is simply not there. It is imperative that any new developments put accessibility first. 

There are simple principles to adhere to in ensuring that public spaces are accessible. These are providing wheelchair ramps; ensuring pathways are wide enough for the use of mobility aids; and making sure that pathways are level. Despite this, it can be quite easy to get this wrong. Using US federal and UN guidelines is important, as these will provide the proper widths and requirements for mobility aids and safety measures. This won’t just aid people with mobility impairments, either, as those hard of hearing or sight will stand to benefit from inclusive spaces.

 Pulling all of this together will ensure that any new public space is fit for the needs of older generations. They have a right to access education and learning, too, but these spaces are not always constructed in a way that’s perfect for them. The design of these spaces needs to be carefully managed, of course, but that’s entirely achievable while still creating a relaxing and creative area.

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