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The Social Life of Gas Stations

Abstract

Literature on gas stations is attributable to a handful of approaches: a nostalgic/historical approach on the first vernacular manifestations of such roadside artifacts; an opposite bleak approach, stressing their features of "non-places"; the obvious branch of technological literature; and a few others. Almost never are gas stations considered as public spaces. However gas stations, as well as other curbside artifacts, abound of social life. This is particularly true in Italy, where thanks to the post-war tradition of Autogrill, gas stations are often much more than just a place to fill up. They provide coffee shops, restaurants, pastry shops, as well as newsstands, stores, food vendors, not to say of the inevitable Mac Drives. Al that accessible, easy to park, and in many instances open 24/7, in a country which shuts at 7.00 pm, or at best at 9.00 pm. Therefore gas stations end to be the crossroads of many social interactions, especially – but not only –of youth subcultures. For these reasons gas stations deserve being studied for what they are, avoiding both nostalgic and bleak approaches. The paper presents the first results of an ongoing research on the social life of gas stations in central Italy. It is structured in five main sections. Section one synthesizes the main positions on gas stations, from the pessimistic ones equating gas stations to nonplaces, to the more optimistic framing gas stations within street and car cultures. Section two frames the relevance of gas stations within the wider transformation produced on cities by the advent of car. Section three provides an historical framework in order to explain today’s social relevance of gas stations in Italy. Section four presents the research findings on the social life of such ‘architectures in motion’, confirming the importance of gas stations for public life. The conclusive section of the paper draws policy implications of such findings claiming the necessity of explicitly designing gas stations as places for public life.

Published:
Pages:75 to 94
Section: Society
How to Cite
Giovannoni, G. (2016) “The Social Life of Gas Stations”, The Journal of Public Space, 1(1), pp. 75-94. doi: 10.5204/jps.v1i1.12.

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Author Biography

Giulio Giovannoni is a researcher at the University of Florence, Department of Architecture, and a former research fellow at John's Hopkins University, Institute for Policy Studies. He has recently been a visiting scholar at Berkeley University, College of Environmental Design. He is the co-founder of the international research network www.crossdisciplinaryurbanspace.com. His research focuses on urban theory, suburbs, sprawl, and on Tuscan cultural history.

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