Plaza Life Revisited: Field Guide Release

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Join us for the release of Field Guide to Life in Urban Plazas.

The guide outlines a research effort focused on New York City, the primary location of urbanist William H. Whyte’s “Street Life Project,” which formed the basis for his seminal book and film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980). The new guide seeks to understand how different types of public spaces have changed some 40 years later. What’s changed about how people use the public realm, and what makes for successful spaces?

The project looks at 10 plazas in Manhattan constructed or renovated in the last 15 years, ranging from the type of bonus spaces Whyte was observing to infrastructural leftovers, alleys, transit plazas, private campus areas, and tactical urbanist interventions. The team used new analytical tools such as a machine-learning algorithm to develop heat maps describing dwell time and pedestrian counts from video footage. The team also used some of the same techniques Whyte did—behavioral observations, site measurements, and hand tabulation to understand context, physical elements, programming, and activity.

Thomas Balsley, Hon. AIANY, Principal, SWA/Balsley
Emily Schlickman, Co-lead, SWA XL Lab


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