There was a story in the Boston Globe this morning about an experiment with "parkets": parking spots along a street converted into tiny parks. Surprise news in the story: no one is using this unexpected urban amenity.
Take a look at this picture and see if you might be able to figure out why no one would come and sit down here:
Who in the world is supposed to ever sit here? Even assuming the location makes some kind of sense, the space looks completely uninviting, and the seats positively hazardous. Two people can't possibly sit together without rolling off in opposite directions. Designers keep getting too clever with things like this.
Assuming there actually is a demand for a small area along the road to have a sit and meet some neighbors (not necessarily true), I'd say the first change would be to provide comfortable seating that looks inviting. Then make sure a food truck is stationed next to this every day, so it gets a lot of use.
All of us who live in cities want to make them fun and inviting. But cities evolve best by watching what people already do voluntarily, and making it more comfortable to do that. Community meetings aren't as useful as might seem, because people always claim they like to do things they think they would be better people for doing, and then never actually do, no matter what the streetscape. "I want to talk about community affairs with neighbors of ethnic groups different than my own in a convenient location along a major thoroughfare". Well, maybe.
If these areas of town are anything like Cambridge, turning these spots into bike parking lots would have the biggest positive effect. The bike parking situation is murder!
It's good that the Globe covered this not-so-exciting story, though, because it's at this level that life is really lived. The best way to improve is to see what actually works and what doesn't.