There are thousands—no, millions—of practical steps we can seize upon to make our communities better places for everyone to live.  We tend to think of these as big-ticket investments in urban planning, technology or social programs but it’s surprising how often it’s little things that add up to great cities. 

This idea struck me earlier in the month while exploring Zagreb, Croatia’s little-known but captivating capital city.  Within minutes of hitting town for a one-day tour, I gravitated to Trg Ban Jelačić, lauded by Project for Public Spaces as one of the Top 20 public squares in the world.  The square—packed with stalls showcasing homegrown wine, honey, and music—feels like a daily festival of Croatian pride.  From there I climbed a stairway to foodie heaven—a scrumptious expanse of vegetables displayed by local farmers. 

And, after that, things just got better.  A cluster of sidewalk cafes fan out from the market on narrow streets, reminding me how close Zagreb is to Italy in both geography and psychology.  This was obviously the part of town where folks go to see and be seen.  On a sunny Friday afternoon, svelte young couples hopped from table to table, espresso and red wine in hand, everyone enthusiastically greeting one another with those oh-so-Mediterranean one-cheek, two-cheek kisses.

As enjoyable as it was to watch this explosion of public life all around me, I later kicked myself for coming to town a day early.  Midday on Saturday is when Zagreb celebrates spica. It’s the custom for everyone to gather in the cafes near the square (or other neighborhood markets around the city), and leisurely sip coffee, read the weekend papers, converse with friends and acquaintances . You get out of your seat only to forage through the market in search of fresh ingredients for a big meal later in the day. 

Think how life in your town or city could be enriched by a pastime like the spica—a spontaneous weekly opportunity to connect with the people you care about, which starts the weekend on a convivial note and lets us know we how much we truly belong to this particular place in the world. 

Jay Walljasper


Jay Walljasper

Jay Walljasper writes and speaks about cities and the commons. He is editor of OnTheCommons.org and author of All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons and The