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A town square is an open area commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings. Other names for town square are civic center, city square, urban square, market square, public square, plaza (from Spanish), piazza (from Italian), and place (from French).
Most town squares are hardscapes suitable for open markets, music concerts, political rallies, and other events that require firm ground. Being centrally located, town squares are usually surrounded by small shops such as bakeries, meat markets, cheese stores, and clothing stores. At their center is often a fountain, well, monument, or statue. Many of those with fountains are actually named Fountain Square.
- Red Square in Moscow was originally used as an outdoor marketplace and later became the stage for Soviet military parades and May Day demonstrations
- Palace Square in St Petersburg was designed to be the central square of Imperial Russia and ironically became the setting of revolutionary protests that led to the overthrow of monarchy during the February Revolution of 1917
- Similarly, Beijing's Tiananmen Square was the scene of both communist parades and anti-government protests
- John-F.-Kennedy-Platz (formerly Rudolph-Wilde-Platz) was the site of the West Berlin town hall and John F. Kennedy's famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech
- New York City's Times Square and Washington, D.C.'s National Mall often fill this role for the United States
- Trafalgar Square in London does the same for the United Kingdom
- Dam Square in Amsterdam for the Netherlands
In some cities, especially in New England in the U.S., the term "square" (as its Spanish equivalent, Plaza) is applied to a commercial area (e.g., Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts), usually formed around the intersection of three or more streets, and which originally consisted of some open area (many of which have been filled in with traffic islands and other traffic calming features). In the Boston area, it is used by municipalities to designate an intersection in honor of a local resident (usually a member of the military or police officer killed in the line of duty), see memorial square.
In the United Kingdom, and especially in London and Edinburgh "square" has a wider meaning. There are public squares of the type described above but the term is also used for formal open spaces surrounded by houses with private gardens at the centre. Most of these were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. In some cases the gardens are now open to the public. See the Squares in London category.
In Mainland China, People's Square is a common designation for the central town square of modern Chinese cities, established as part of urban modernization within the last few decades. These squares are the site of government buildings, museums and other public buildings. The probably best-known and largest such square in China is the Shanghai People's Square.