Plaza ( /ˈplɑːzə/; Castilian or Latin American ) is a Spanish word related to "field" which describes an open urban public space, such as a city square. All through Spanish America and the Spanish East Indies, the plaza mayor of each center of administration held three closely related institutions: the cathedral, the cabildo or administrative center, which might be incorporated in a wing of a governor's palace, and the audiencia or law court. The plaza might be large enough to serve as a military parade ground. At times of crisis or fiesta, it was the space where a large crowd might gather. Like the Italian piazza, the plaza remains a center of community life that is only equaled by the market-place.
Most colonial cities in Spanish America and the Philippines were planned around a square plaza de armas, where troops could be mustered, as the name implies, surrounded by the governor's palace and the main church. A plaza de toros is a bullring.
In modern usage, a plaza can be any gathering place on a street or between buildings, a street intersection with a statue, etc. Today's metropolitan landscapes often incorporate the "plaza" as a design element, or as an outcome of zoning regulations, building budgetary constraints, and the like. Sociologist William H. Whyte conducted an extensive study of plazas in New York City: his study humanized the way modern urban plazas are conceptualized, and helped usher in significant design changes in the making of plazas.
Cognates of the word plaza include Italian piazza, Portuguese praça, French place, Catalan plaça and Romanian piața.