It is still early, but there is already a cue. The bakery ‘Mediterrane’ in the centre of Amsterdam is a special place. A diverse public of customers visits the place for their croissants, pain de campagne, Moroccan pastries or cappuccino. At the tiled walls one finds a collection of pictures, all taken by the owner of the bakery. The pictures are portraits of all kinds of people; the customers themselves. The walls are all filled up, so there is no more space left for more portraits. The Moroccan owners of the bakery have quite some knowledge about what is going on in the neighbourhood today. While a few customers wait for their sandwiches to be warmed, they complain about the weather, parking costs that have risen again or they talk about the upcoming elections or soccer games. The bakery is so small that the customers are often huddled together. An interesting public of urban dwellers and visitors is assembled together.
In 1961, activist and publicist Jane Jacobs argued that big cities are not simply larger than towns, or denser than suburbs, but that they differ from towns and suburbs because cities are by definition full of strangers, that are in fact far more common than acquaintances (Jacobs 40). In her analysis of urban life, the setting of the city street plays an important role. Exactly because of the chaotic accumulation of everyday interactions that can be found here, a sense of community can come into being. This does not imply a feeling of social cohesion, but ‘a public of familiar strangers’ (Jacobs 40). According to Jacobs, trust is formed over time due to many little public contacts, like the conversations between customers in the Moroccan bakery. Most of these contacts are ostensibly utterly trivial but Jacobs states that the sum of these contacts is not trivial at all. “The sum of such casual public contact at a local level is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust.” (Jacobs 67). The emergence of such a ‘web of public respect and trust’ is dependent on certain catalysts. Next to a particular street grid that provokes incidental encounters, Jacobs emphasizes that key players like shopkeepers are necessary, that are familiar to most of the passers-by and who can keep an eye on the street. These ‘public figures’ play an important role for the street to become a familiar environment.