Needing a break from too many sad things in today’s news?  It’s time to reflect on features in places that make people happy.  In no particular order, here are ten things that inspire me both abroad and at home:

1. Dancing outdoors

Dancing can be a powerful and fun form of human expression.  The image behind this blog post title is from outdoor area on the banks of the Vltava River, in Prague. Many cities bring dance to their streets in summer months.  The spread of this activity does not detract from the pure enjoyment people feel from watching, or being part of, the dance

2. Parks where old people and children feel welcome

These are where people can be themselves and relax.  The elderly and the very young are typically more vulnerable than young and middle-aged adults.  Places that make our most vulnerable welcome are truly charming.

While it includes many commercial aspects, the outdoor space on the waterfront side of the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver embodies that for me.  I can spend way too much time watching excited toddlers chase slightly bored looking seagulls away from stolen French fries, while their parents and grandparents gaze out at the boats in the water (or try to make it up to the seagulls by feeding them more).

3. Surprising public art.

Surprises don’t have to be dramatic, but they do need to represent a break from the status quo.

Author photo, July 2015
Author photo, July 2015

Many cities have active programs to promote, and add to, their inventory of public art.  But it’s also about balance –too many surprises detract from each other.

4. Sunny (and shady) spots

Some of the best outdoor public spaces are those with southern exposure, or full sunlight during active parts of the day.  Who doesn’t love the kiss of warm sun on their cheeks?  That said, in some climates there is more joy to be found from delightfully shady spots with seating.  See note above re: balance.  The key is climate-appropriate comfort.

5. Accessible music

Music reaches a very primal part of the soul for many of us.  It’s wonderful when you encounter a talented busker outdoors, and equally wonderful when it is easy to hear music in more formal venues too (see earlier post on classical music opportunities).  I was also thrilled when the City of New Westminster included a giant outdoor screen, broadcasting what was likely the final concert of The Tragically Hip, as a public part of its local food festival.

Author photo, August 2016

6. Buildings with whimsy

Whimsy can come from gargoyles, interesting murals on the side, or other features like the astrological clock in Prague

Author photo, 2015

7. Enjoyable transit

This is not an oxymoron.  Some transit experiences can be fun, especially if they involve direct connection with water.  It’s what Venice is known for- as are cities like Seattle and Vancouver.

8. Animal-friendly spaces.

This can be challenging in larger cities, where an imbalance of animals elicits sanitation concerns.  At a minimum, an ability to have positive encounters with local dogs, cats, and  birds can help make a place- and even an entire trip- memorable.

9. Things worth looking down at

Some places do a remarkable job of making their sidewalks and manhole covers look beautiful.  The next time you travel, challenge yourself to find at least five beautiful sidewalk features.

10. Beautiful trees and plants

If you’ve ever visited Lahaina (Maui) in Hawaii, you’ll remember the large banyan tree, which never ceases to amaze me.  Each place that I’ve visited has had a special tree, or type of plant that has delighted me.   The photo below includes the tree, and my husband (another thing that both surprises and brings me joy).

Author photo, February 2016

This post has brought you ten random things that can bring joy to people when they are out and about in public places.  Phew! I feel better now.  And I would love to hear about the places and features in cities that you have visited and which have brought you joy.


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