Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day special: Lovers in public places

Joe Ravi is the author of this post. He is passionate about cities, placemaking and  public participation and believes in innovative and creative responses to urban planning issues. He is a guest contributor to the Fremantle Doctor Blog.

I’ve been a long time supporter of the Fremantle Doctor and as fellow Perth planning/placemaking geek when the good doctor asked me to contribute to his blog I was of course happy to oblige. We met at one of his favourite Fremantle hangouts to discuss the logistics of my contribution and decided that mid-February would be a good time for my first post. Valentines Day! Perfect, cue cheesy lovers in public places post.

As a younger planning student I kept my supply of two minute noodles and beer intact by moonlighting as a bartender at various establishments around town. The bars I tended were by no means romantic or trendy places and as staff we really had to put a lot of thought into setting the right ambience for the evening.

Over many nights working in these bars I began to observe social interactions and how we as staff could make contributions to encourage further interaction. I discovered, amongst many things, that by playing certain music and setting lights at the right level often we could make our patrons feel more comfortable interacting with one another. When delving deeper into what was happening I started to see more people approaching strangers and prospective future partners, more people were exchanging phone numbers and more people leaving the bar with a person they did not arrive with. We were curating the place and people were responding.

Those people who were successful in meeting a new friend and potential future partners on these nights often returned to the bars and would continue to do so if the right ambience was set. I mean it doesn’t really take a placemaking genius to work out that if you were to meet the love of your life somewhere, then that place would then be considered special for the two of you and you would be likely to return. Even if that love were only for one night you may be more inclined to return again to find if not that same love, then another.

When transitioned into the world of planning these same principles apply. Placemaking legend Holly Whyte noted in his studies of New York's public spaces that in great places, lovers are found and Project for Public Spaces Fred Kent has also stated:

“You know that you are in a really good place if you see lots of affection, you see lots of kissing in good places.’’

So this has got me thinking, did I have it right as a student? Could I have skipped all those years of study and just applied those same principles I learnt in bars, that all people really want in great place is a place, is to meet and spend time with a lover. Perhaps I guess, but that’s the beauty of hindsight and, as a planner, I don’t know how qualified I am to play cupid. So although my role as a matchmaker may be unclear, what is clear is that lovers and great places go hand in hand.

I hope readers enjoy my first contribution and I look forward to writing future posts.


  1. Great article Joe, I enjoyed reading about your insights. Thanks to you and Swanny for posting this. Creating places for spontaneous exchanges, interaction or to allow folks to create some sort of personalisation with a place is integral in my opinion. Delco