As noted in the post below, our conversation at the Social Kitchen led us to believe that Kyoto may be experiencing a shortage of true public space as it is understood by New York City planners. According to our Kyoto contacts, Kyoto is fortunate that is has one true public space on a massive scale: the Kamo River.
Diverted away from the city center at its founding, the river goes through the eastern side of central Kyoto, starting at the old imperial grounds. The river is shallow and bordered on both sides by wide walking paths for the entirety of its length through Kyoto. Restaurant decks line the upper banks, and greenery and a steep bank separate the river space from the noise of traffic on street level.
At times natural and strikingly man-made, the river allows for a variety of uses and appears open to all segments of the population. Unlike many of the more intentional parks and public areas, we saw very few signs with rules of use or even recommendations. It was designed with a very light touch.
Megan's description of her year in Kyoto often involves the river - it appears to be a central gathering place for the entire city, year round. Sakiko told us in the Social Kitchen that as far as she was concerned, Kyoto could get by with just this river, and its public space needs would be met.
I only wish we'd stayed in Kyoto longer, though our schedule didn't permit it - it's a complex issue and our whirlwind tour prevented us from exploring these issues more deeply.