A town square is an open area in the middle of a village or town. Large cities may have several such squares, and over time as a city expands, a town square may shift to a location other than the center geographically, although it remains the heart of the town psychologically. Town squares usually become the hub of the community, with numerous groups taking advantage of the open space to hold events which can vary from political rallies to concerts. Visitors often enjoy visiting the town square as well, to get a taste for the community.
The tradition of creating a common open space in a town is ancient, as has been discovered on numerous archaeological digs. The Romans, for example, had the forum, a space which was often designated for political activities such as debates. Many European villages had a town green, while meticulously laid-out cities across Asia always made a space for a central open area to allow citizens to gather and socialize.
Town squares are known by a number of alternate names. In France, a town square is a place, while Italians prefer piazza. You may also hear a town square referred to as a market square, city square, public square, or a civic center. A typical town square has some landscaping, especially around the edges and the middle, along with a statue or two and possibly fountains, trees, and other amenities.
Sometimes, civic institutions such as a city hall, courthouse, or county clerk are located on the edges of a town square; Civic Center in San Francisco, for example, is laid out in front of City Hall. In other cases, a town square is simply surrounded by local shops offering a variety of items. In fair weather, vendors may also set up in the square for farmers' markets and other marketing events. Historically, town squares were used for open-air executions and gibbeting, although these practices are much less common today.
Some notable town squares around the world include Times Square in New York, Red Square in Moscow, and Trafalgar Square in London. Many communities greatly value their town squares, appreciating the open space and the opportunities it provides to hold events and interact with other residents of the town. As a general rule, town squares are controlled by city hall, with public works being responsible for keeping the square in order, and people who wish to hold events at a town square must apply to city hall for a permit.