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What is a Town Square?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Sep 24, 2011

Our town square has parking issues, because the businesses there are so popular. Often, people have to drive around it and exit down alleys to find random parking lots.

One reason it’s so hard to park in the morning is the popularity of the bakery. Everyone who works within five or ten minutes of the square seems to go here for coffee and muffins. They are famed to have the best breakfast food around, plus the cheapest coffee.

Many people work on the square, but none of them have reserved parking spaces. The workers have to compete with the general public for spots, and they often end up walking about a mile to work.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 23, 2011

In many poor towns, the squares are full of abandoned buildings. I have driven through a few that resemble ghost towns.

These sparse squares will have maybe one jewelry store, an antique store, and a restaurant that are still open. It’s a sad sign of hard times.

The courthouse is the biggest and most well maintained structure in these squares. Often, it is the place with the most visitors.

I love exploring the few businesses that have managed to survive in ghost town squares. Some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in have been tucked away from the crowded areas.

By cupcake15 — On Sep 23, 2011

My favorite town center is San Marcos Square in Venice. Venice is one of my favorite cities and this center is not only ancient and historical but it is the site of a lot of artists and musicians that perform for the audience.

There are also a slew of galleries and many restaurants nearby. The cobblestone streets really take you back in time. This is definitely a town center that you have to experience yourself, because words won’t do it justice.

By seag47 — On Sep 23, 2011

@cloudel - It seems to be that way in university towns. My square is the same as yours - attractive, yet expensive.

To capitalize on the extra people who show up for football games, the businesses on the square often extend their hours of operation. Many of them open on Sunday when the game is on a Saturday, just to take advantage of all the people who spent the night in town.

The restaurants usually advertise their Sunday brunch heavily in the days before a game. In fact, the town’s newspaper has a lot more ads in it on weeks when there is a home game.

By cloudel — On Sep 22, 2011

I work at a business just off the town square. This university town is bustling with students, and most of them flock to the square to shop and to party at night.

Numerous bars, restaurants, and clothing boutiques are located in the square. At its center is the courthouse, surrounded by green grass, trees, bushes, and flowers. It’s a very attractive place.

The shops on the square are very pricey. They can get away with this, because most of the students come from wealthy families.

The “in” places to go are all located in the town square. Some residents who have lived there for years shop at cheaper places further away from the center of town, simply because it’s all they can afford.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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