Anything of worth is done with intention.
For every successful venture, big or small, someone had the foresight to consider the ‘why’- why we are doing this thing, and the ‘what for’- what are our goals and what kind of outcome do we hope for. You can’t be successful without intention. Try something as simple as cooking dinner without intention- just a bunch of random ingredients with no dish in mind? It’ll be interesting to see what the family is having for dinner.
The Medici family was certainly intentional. A powerful dynasty located in Central Italy, the Medici made their money in banking and helped pull the world out of the dark ages and launch the period known as the Renaissance.
What I find most fascinating about their approach to fostering in this age of enlightenment was their focus on the built environment. The Medici family understood that if they wanted to inspire an age of incredible intellectual activity, they would have to provide the proper setting.
This family didn’t slap together some big box stores and Tyvek riddled subdivisions and wait for the magic to happen. They did their research. They looked to the built environment of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome for answers. They took a scientific approach to the concept of place because good design is more of a science than it is an art.
Those responsible for ushering in this era of enlightenment understood that beautiful places didn’t just occur by accident. These individuals realized that a sense of community was also a function of the built environment and that if they were going to bring about a monumental shift in thinking, they would have to provide a place that provided inspiration. So they studied the proportions, angles, setbacks, heights, massing, and all the details that go into creating a place.
And through the benefit of time, we can safely say that those responsible for designing cities like Florence, Venice, and Pienza were wildly successful. These were the places that sparked a dramatic shift in the way society functioned. The streets and plazas they designed helped spark an entirely new age of art and science. The ideas and creativity that sprung from those cities reshaped the world.
And to this day, these are still the most highly visited places on the planet. We still look at these cities as being the best and most beautiful. We still send our authors, poets, and artists to these places today to find inspiration.
While there is certainly more that contributed to the Renaissance than placemaking, it had a significant role to play. We don’t expect beauty and creativity to arise from ugly places. No one seeks out a subdivision or a strip mall parking lot for inspiration.
Cities and towns are human habitats. The built environment sets the stage for the lives we lead. Renaissance cities provided a stage for entirely new ways of thinking. These cities were partially responsible for some of the greatest art ever created.
We should not have to cross an ocean to enjoy streets and squares that make us feel enlightened. We have the technology, money, and wherewithal to design places that inspire and make people feel connected and beautiful.
We must start being intentional about the built environment. Those in charge of overseeing cities have a responsibility to design them in a fashion that elevates the lives of their residents. We should be setting the stage for the outcomes we want, for the emotions we prefer citizens experience.
Understanding the impact that place has on our emotional, physical, financial, and social well-being, we should be doing all we possibly can to create places that provide people with the surroundings they crave and the built environment that they deserve.