At one time in my life I was an editor for a group of medical transcriptionists and the word interstitial was nearly always followed by cystitis. It’s not a word most people use often, but in architecture, and I dare to think, urban planning, it’s a fairly common term. It’s all about the spaces between.
Some cities just don’t really do much of anything with these spaces, leaving them up to the owners of the land or the people closest to those spaces to worry about maintenance. Others turn them into pretty little pocket parks, urban areas for city dwellers to connect with something that approximates nature. Both of these can be valid ways to deal with the spaces that aren’t really used for anything else, or that may be too small to be of much value, or that just are on the edge of the city and fall out of use.
These interstitial spaces may be large or they may be small. Years ago, they were often places for children to play, to explore a semi-wilderness in a vacant lot, or to play a game of stickball. The remnants of buildings were for exploration and exploitation. Materials were often taken for projects on other sites, generally without much concern.
Lately, concerns for safety and legalities and even property values have made these spaces more problematic. Property owners, even absent ones, can be sued for injuries on vacant lots, and in the absence of an owner, such as an abandoned property, the municipality may be liable. Those laws may have been in place for a while, but they are invoked more often now than they used to be, so cities are seeking positive uses for interstitial spaces.
Ideas of interstitial spaces and how they are used are on my mind right now because as I was driving down one of the main roads in town, I noticed signs on what I had always thought was just a vacant lot that declared it a wildlife sanctuary. The signs seem to have popped up in the last couple of weeks, which is just about the time I saw a competition announcement on interstitial spaces. The two have been intertwined in my head since then.
Gainesville, like much of Florida, is not tremendously urban. Land is still relatively cheap, so there is not as much of a drive to build on every square inch as there may be in more densely populated areas. And as I have noted before, things grow here. That’s just what happens. It is easy to make these leftover spaces into something green for everyone under those conditions. However, there are many cities in Florida that do not make that effort at all.
Although I have not looked up the specific policies on it, it does seem that Gainesville does a pretty good job of using interstitial spaces as parks. I have commented many times on how close the wilderness is to the urban areas of Gainesville, and this site is an excellent example of that. It is right next to a motorcycle dealer, on one of Gainesville’s main roads (yes, it looks a little empty at 7 pm in the summer). In most cases, the parks and trails are set back a bit from the main road, offering a bit of a buffer from road noise and traffic, but here, there are no buffer zones, just wilderness butted up against the urban.