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So, what’s a town square?

Earlier this week, Apple let us know that it is now calling its stores “town squares.” Not surprisingly, this elicited more than a few reactions. The Verge called it a “pretentious farce.” Others called it arrogant. Who is Apple to think that its stores could ever come close to a real town square?

It also raised important questions around the actual “publicness” of the spaces within our cities. Traditionally, town squares have indeed been public. But our cities are now also filled with many privately owned public spaces (POPS). Most of the time you don’t know the difference. Though sometimes you do

The reality is that there is a longstanding tradition of private retail-oriented spaces trying to simulate the experience of a town square, and certainly of a gathering space. The creator of the modern mall, Victor Gruen, always thought of his “garden courts” as a kind of substitute for traditional urban spaces. This was him trying to nobly urbanize the suburbs.

What is perhaps unique about Apple’s town square nomenclature is that – beyond simply wanting to be a Starbucks-esque “third place” – they seem to be telling us that they want to usurp the public nucleus away from the proverbial “garden court” and place it in their individual stores. 

And the reactions we have seen are because that feels far fetched.

However this plays out, this is a very clear acknowledgement by Apple that in today’s world being a store simply isn’t enough. That’s no longer interesting. Consumers have far easier options at their disposable. You need to give us more of a reason to visit you in your store or, dare I say, your town square.

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