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Public Life Diversity Toolkit:

a prototype for measuring social mixing and economic integration in public space


Credits Gehl Studio SF - A Gehl Architects Company Project Team Jeff Risom, Principle in Charge Anna Muessig, Project Manager Eric Scharnhorst, Data Scientist Tyler Jones, Designer Alex DeCicco, Designer Celsa Dockstader, Designer

www.gehlarchitects.com

Special thanks to Benjamin de la Pe単a, The Knight Foundation Daniel Harris, The Knight Foundation Ariella Cohen, Next City Noah Chrisman, SPUR John Bela Ghigo DiTommaso Greg Lindsay Blaine Merker

April, 2015


Contents 1 / Why Measure Diversity in Public Space? 2 / Prototyping New Measurement Tools 3 / Design Brief 4 / Appendix


Why measure diversity in public life?


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Background and motivation for a Public Life Diversity Toolkit Many of our cities are divided by economic means, and inequality is a rising topic on the national agenda. Yet, when we go into our squares, parks, and public places, we encounter people from different walks of life. This diversity is core to our cities’ economic competitiveness, civility, and democracy. So why don’t we have the tools to measure what we care about? Economic integration between people of different socioeconomic strata matters. Spending time with people who come from different walks of life increases empathy across groups, builds tolerance as a society, may generate new ideas and economic opportunity, and represents our democratic society. We care about diversity and integration in many civic systems. Public housing experts have grappled for decades with how to integrate people of different incomes in the same neighborhoods and buildings. Leaders in our public educational system have struggled with how to make childrens’ educational experience one where they are exposed to young people from different economic strata and backgrounds. In public space, we strive to design and program places that achieve the democratic promise of our public spaces by inviting people that represent our diverse society. At the core of these efforts to integrate those from different economic strata is a belief that civic spaces should be built on diversity, tolerance, and the democratic freedom of choice. By leading with these values we can create a strong democratic society that allows individuals and cities to reach their full potential. In public space design, diversity is often a benchmark of quality, from a diversity of types of activities taking place in the public realm, to a diversity of modes of transit,

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to a diversity of building types. We also care about the diversity of people spending time together because we want our public spaces to represent the communities they serve, and be able to function as a civic forum. Spending time together can take many forms. It can be as passive as two people quietly sharing a bench at a park, or as active as two parents striking up a conversation at a playground and exchanging contact information about local daycare. There are many ways that people from different economic strata can mix with one another. It is the aim of this project to understand how to identify where this mixing is happening in our cities, and the types of design and programming cues that can help invite for these interactions. Our goal is to use this new way of seeing the city to help communities and civic leaders fulfil the democratic promise of our cities’ public realms.

Opportunity This research topic is timely. Although there is growing interest in the spatial disbursement of economic inequality, there exists no method to measure or identify it in public life. Instead, urban planners and designers concerned with these questions rely on data sets that measure where people live, like the Census and the American Community Survey. However, these data sets

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Why Measure Diversity in Public Life?


don’t measure other essential qualities of our lived experience like where we choose to spend our time. A method to measure diversity in public life could help planners, designers, and urbanists understand the design and programming cues for social mixing between people in different economic strata, and use these cues to develop performance metrics, give us a new way to map the city that identifies places that foster mixing, and recuperate places that don’t.

Background By some measure, designing places that foster a diverse public life is fundamental urban design and planning itself. Many contemporary urbanists have developed ways of talking about the relationship between form and a diverse public life. Sociologist Elijah Anderson calls places that foster diversity the“cosmopolitan canopy.” Celebrated socilologist Mark Granovetter wrote about “the

strength of weak ties” to describe the value of weak social connections. William “Holly” White identified “triangulation” as a “third thing” that can create a bond between strangers. Today, there are a host of projects that measure place preferences and behavior patterns using digital means. MIT’s Place Pulse translates human preferences for the built environment into machine-learning and an automated system for rating google street view public space data. Eric Fischer’s locals and tourists maps looks at the spatial divide of locals and tourists. Companies worldwide are trying to leverage big data generated by cell phones, connected objects, and other data-generating systems to understand human activity. However, while many urbanists have developed their own typologies for encouraging social mixing, or probed one-off data sets for place-preferences, few have looked at the economic dimension of social mixing in public space, and few have developed methods for understanding what fosters a diverse public life.

Public life in Largo São Francisco, São Paulo - Image courtesy SP Urbanismo

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Minneapolis’ Northern Spark. Photo by Patrick Kelley

Why Gehl At Gehl, we have been measuring the way the people interact with space for 40 years. We measure pedestrian flows, stationary activities, and the mix of age and genders in space, along with physical qualities of space. However, beyond these categories, Gehl has not focused on the differences between people. Adding new layers to our understanding of how people use space is a natural extension from our work in human-scaled design. To tackle these questions, we bring our mixed-methods practice that blends primary observational and interview data with new digital tools.

Key Challenges There is a reason the relationship between public life diversity and the built environment is still a mystery. It is not because it is difficult or because the data is unavailable. It is primarily because calling out inequality and difference among people can be an uncomfortable

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and controversial exercise. To measure social mixing among people from different economic strata do you ask people how much money they make? Do you judge people from afar based on how they look? Can you use “big data”? It makes sense that many have come to this research question and turned away; it confronts both some timeless taboos and some next-generation data frontiers. In addition to these challenges, social mixing among people from different economic strata is quite difficult to measure: accurate data sets are a challenge, there are limitations on primary data collection, and even if one finds the data, it is tough to pinpoint impact given all the intervening variables. Even if we measure this topic well, the data is hard to make sense of. Despite these challenges, the questions remain vitally important. Developing these tools will give us a new layer of needed information about the health of public life and public spaces in our cities.

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Why Measure Diversity in Public Life?


Chess players in New York’s Washington Square Park

Project Approach We took this challenge to develop better tools to understand the relationship between diversity of public life and the built environment. Our approach unfolds in three steps. This document is evidence of the first step and we look forward to pursuing the others in later phases. Phase 1. Develop tools to identify social mixing among economic groups in public places Before understanding design cues that invite for social mixing, one must first define a way to identify locations of this social mixing. Our efforts documented here describe the results of a working prototype toolkit that begins to answer this question. Phase 2. Design research in places of social mixing Once an effective research tool uncovers locations of social mixing, we will perform design research in these places to learn about the design and programming cues for social mixing.

Phase 3. Process and design inspiration for social mixing Finally, this design research will be translated into a guide for process and design inspiration for civic leaders to measure what they care about and create a feedback loop between people-first metrics and design and investment decisions.

Phase 1 Guiding research questions We framed our objectives with three questions to apply to test sites: 1. Do people from different economic groups spend time in this place? 2. Are people from different economic groups socializing with each other? A clarification: we are assuming people from different economic groups can be either friends or strangers. Some of our tools ask questions about interactions with strangers based on this assumption. 3. If yes, what prompted this social interaction?

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from

Call to Action: We Need a Census for City Streets To frame our research questions, we wrote this article, which was published in Next City as part of In Public, an article series cocurated by Gehl. By Eric Scharnhorst November 12, 2014 www.nextcity.org/column/in-public Today the average American makes more data before breakfast than George Washington did over the course of his entire life. Worldwide, we’re generating over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, most of it from interacting with digital content like email and Facebook. But cities and the people using them are physical.

Our understanding of how people interact with each other offline, in public spaces, and how these public spaces then impact communities is often a mystery. The classic approach to collecting physical data about people in cities is to record how people use the public realm. Jan Gehl began collecting and using

data to unravel this mystery in Copenhagen 45 years ago. Since then, city by city, street by street, the Gehl database has grown to capture the life of thousands of streets and public places. Now we can compare the life of a street in Sydney, Australia to one in Xalapa, Mexico. The approach has been fine-tuned over the years, and the scope has

Median household income in NYC based on the 2010 Census. Projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit

Powell St, San Francisco. Photo by Justin Ennis via Flickr


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Gehl’s online GIS database of public life

expanded incrementally every time we work in a new city. Our data at Gehl Architects is unique because of its human focus. In addition to hourly pedestrian counts, we record the number and diversity of stationary activities in the public realm. Stationary activity data is a good proxy for the public life of a place. A space dominated by people waiting for the bus has a different life than one with a balanced mixture of children playing, people standing, and people sitting and talking. We incorporate age and gender information to the stationary and pedestrian data to get a better sense of who is using a space. This kind of data gives urbanists

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit

a platform to advocate for cities for people. We used some of this empirical data to champion the pedestrian and public space improvements along Broadway and throughout New York, throughout Melbourne’s network of alley ways and civic destinations, and other public realm improvements all over the world. The methodology also presents some opportunities and challenges to use empirical observations relevant to addressing a variety of urban problems, from inclusion and equity to sustainability and resilience. One such challenge is to understand the character of urban diversity in public space. Cities are celebrated for their

heterogeneity, and piles of studies are written on the economic and social benefits of interacting with people different from you. Yet, our tools for understanding this heterogeneity are crude and often based on information separate from the people and their daily routines, which truly define a city’s character. For example, take a look at a map of census data showing household incomes in New York. There is a concentration of wealth in the center, and a clear contrast north of Central Park. But is this representative of the social life of New York City? Of course not. Despite the clearly delineated income inequality on the map, New York’s public


spaces are melting pots for the economic and social diversity of the entire city, and they are far more diverse than the blocks that surround them. You would never know that from looking at the map. How can we learn more about socioeconomic mixing at the human scale? There are a number of new tools and datasets from governments, academia and industry that address socioeconomic mixing. In government, the US Census and the American Community Survey (ACS) are still the go-to sources. The ACS is now updated on a rolling basis, and the US Census is still on a 10-year refresh cycle. And although the resolution of Census data has improved incrementally every 10 years, the highest level of detail is the city block, and at that resolution only a limited set of attributes are available. The ACS and the Census are both used by city planners to understand social and demographic trends. But the large grain size of the data means it can’t be used to zoom into a plaza to find out how people are spending time, or the quality of the experience on the ground. The Census will return values from a few years ago that characterized the socioeconomic characteristics of people living nearby. But asking the Census or the ACS what is happening at the human scale is like trying to find your favorite raindrop in a frozen pond. Cities have been innovating and augmenting the Census and ACS data by opening up their own datasets. Open city data

covers things like building and demolition permits, parking, food sources, car traffic and even the locations of rat sightings. This information can be used to map place and building characteristics — critical information for city planners. But everyday city life is rarely the focus. In these datasets, “people data” is usually limited to pedestrian injuries or worse. Some new tools developed by hobbyists, industrialists and academics are leading the way in automating people data measurements. Different types of “smart” sensors now read license plates and count traffic, estimate pedestrian volumes by sensing the number of nearby WiFi devices and estimate stadium crowds by scanning for phones that have their Bluetooth sensors turned on. Tweets, photo locations, cellphone data and even taxicab data are mapped to learn more about what’s happening on the ground in cities. Video feeds of thermal imagery are used to count people walking and bicycling. Even arial drones outfitted with cameras and scanners feed their footage into software that generates detailed 3D models of city spaces. But new types of traffic counters and more detailed 3D models are not providing new categories of information. These innovations are only doing old work more efficiently. And although they can make it easier collect more data, in doing so, they sometimes remove the stakeholder and volunteer data collectors who are most excited to contribute to the public discourse that follows the data collection and analysis phase. The innovations are not

helping us understand how people interact with one another in the public realm. The reason cities don’t have this information is not because of technological limitations. It’s because of a shared resistance to doing the work in the first place. Although city planners map citywide Census-level socioeconomic categories like income and family size, they are hesitant to measure how people of different “categories” mix in the public realm. The hesitation is justified. It comes from real concerns about potential political backlash. It is one thing to compare the median income of different neighborhoods. It’s quite another to compare the incomes of people sitting next to each other on a bench, and to try and understand how that affects their urban experience. If this job isn’t getting done because it’s uncomfortable work, then waiting for a technologybased solution may take forever. The first step is to address the question of how the Gehl methodology can be adapted to collect socioeconomic data at the human scale. We will explore this question over the course of the next few months and will report back in an “In Public” post soon. -Eric Scharnhorst is a project manager at Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.

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Prototyping New Tools


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A toolkit not a tool: fitting the right tool to the question There is no one-tool-fits-all for measuring public life diversity. We prototyped three different tools, which work together to give us a full picture of social mixing between people in different economic groups.

intercept survey

observational analysis

1

2

2

census for city streets

3

3

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools


Testing different tools Understanding the complexity of public life diversity, who is mixing in a place, how they are interacting, and how their relationships change over time, cannot be summarized in a single tool. Some information can only be gleaned from one-on-one dialogue with a person, while other information is best captured passively through the digital realm. We prototyped three tools at three scales that address our research questions. Each collects complementary information that fills in holes left by other tools. The table below describes these complementary tools.

Life methodology to count social grouping. It captures more people than the intercept survey tool, but doesn’t give information about social cues for mixing or economic strata.

Our final tool is powered by social media data and allows us to look at areas as big as an entire city at flexible points in time. This tool is excellent because it can be deployed at any time, over any geographic area, and it gives us an estimation of the economic qualities of the neighborhoods that people are coming from. But, because social media is biased towards young people (among other things), its sample is biased. It is also proxy data for who might be in a space at any given time, and so cannot tell us about what is actually taking place on the ground.

Gehl always begins with people and how they use space. Therefore, our first tool is an intercept survey which captures nuanced information about the connections Using these tools together allow us to put these various between strangers and helps us validate our Instagram findings together into a well-rounded understanding of data. This tool gives very complete data, but is limited how the Potential diversity ofdata public life plays out in space. Census for City Streets: sets by small sample size. Spatial and

Smartphone

User data is

The following sections describeonly in more detail our the public focus mostly public High usership* Our second tool relies on empirical observational methods, findings, and an evaluation of the performance Instagram Yes (300 million) Yes Yes Yes analysis in-place, and uses Gehl’s Public Space/Public of each tool. Yes No Yes Flickr No (92 million) Twitter Foursquare Facebook

Yes (288 million) No (55 million) Yes (1393 million)

No No (merchant-focus) No

No Yes No

Yes No No

* Global active user numbers from Digital Marketing Ramblings, http://expandedramblings.com

Comparing Tools: Sample quality and research question fit Toolkit: Sample quality and research question fit Public Life Diversity Intercept survey

Observational Analysis

Census for city streets

Does the data represent everyone in a public space during the analysis?

No

Yes

No

Does the data cover a long period of time?

No

No

Yes

Do people from different economic groups spend time in this place?

Yes

No

Yes

Are people socializing?

Yes

Yes

No

Are people from different economic groups socializing with each other?

Yes

No

No

What prompts social interactions between people from different economic groups?

Yes

No

No

Sample quality

Research question fit

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Test Sites We wanted to test our prototypes on public spaces that we already had hunches about that we could test, that had different qualities of public life, and that were close to home so we could come back and tweak our tools.

2 1

Patricia’s Green is a small park adjacent to a temporary pop-up public space called PROXY. It is a neighborhoodserving park that is a common landmark in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. It features a play structure for children, a grassy lawn, and shaded fixed benches. PROXY is a popular parking lot-turned pop-up retail destination that offers coffee, juice, retail, ice-cream, cultural pop-up programming, and a beer garden (our test only captured the public space, not the beer garden). Union Square is the central public space of San Francisco’s downtown shopping district. It is host to many seasonal iconic events including a large Christmas tree, ice skating, and other attractions that draw tourists from around the world. We had a hunch that Patricia’s Green was more popular with locals and those from the immediate neighborhood, and were able to test our hunches with our tools.

1 Patricia’s Green is a central plaza in downtown surrounded by shopping and hotels

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools

2 Union Square is a central plaza in downtown surrounded by shopping and hotels


People interacting at the Living Innovation Zone on Market Street, San Francisco

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Intercept Survey

There are some things you can only learn about a space from asking someone directly, like why they feel comfortable in a space, and when they feel comfortable meeting a new person. We developed an intercept survey to ask these questions.

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Method

Results + Analysis

Gehl staff approached visitors at random in our test sites and asked them to take a short paper survey. Survey questions asked about demographics, how visitors used the public space, if they talked to a new person, and if they used Instagram.

In Union Square, 60% of surveyed people talked to new people in the square. The most common trigger for this interaction (other than “other”) was programming (an event, concert, or class) at 28% of respondents. The high “other” finding means we need to better-hone our survey questions to reflect real-world causes for interactions.

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools


In Hayes Valley 60% of respondents said they did recognize or know someone, with 25% reporting they had made new acquaintances or friends because of interactions they had in the plaza. As we tweaked our survey instrument in the prototyping process, we changed the question “did you talk to people” to “do you recognize people.” We found that some people felt uncomfortable talking to strangers in general, but enjoyed recognizing people from the neigborhood. The nuances between “talking’ and “recognizing” different people sparked a debate around the value of recognition versus connection and what “counts” as social mixing. This discussion of the spectrum of connection is presented in Blaine Merker’s article for Next City on page 28.

Have you talked to people in this plaza? (Union Square Survey Responses)

25

24 5

Yes, both friends of friends and a stranger (A and B)

11

Yes, stranger I struck up conversation with

8

Yes, friends of friends

20 16 15

10

5

0

No

Yes

Do you recognize neighbors or friends in this plaza? (Patricia’s Green survey responses)

40

39 5

35

30

8

25 6 20

Yes, I have made new friends that I met because of the plaza (9%) Yes, I have made a few acquintances (15%)

If yes, what brought about your interaction with them? (Union Square survey responses)

3% 10% 38%

14%

Yes, I recognize a few faces, but have not talked to anyone (11%)

7%

28%

15 12 20

10

Yes I recognize or know someone in the plaza (59%)

5

0

No

Pets Sports / physical exercise Children Event / concert / class Volunteering / Religious event Other

Yes

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Evaluating the tool Our first tool gives us a very complete picture of how people experience a place and connect with different people there. We were able to gather valuable information about how often people recognized others from the public space, when they had interactions with people different from them what triggered this interaction. We were also able to identify when we gave the survey to groups, and could conceivably compare the economic qualities of these groups to answers in the survey, or extrapolate these findings to observed groups using observational analysis in our second tool. Unfortunately our sample size for this data was so small (only a handful of groups were surveyed), so we cannot share the findings here.

Because we also asked about social media usage, this tool also allows us to verify the reliability of our third Census for City Streets tool by asking the same questions to our interviewees and seeing if their responses match up. However, there are some sampling problems with this tool. Because this method must be administered in person, limitations of staffing, budget, and time mean sample sizes will be small. It also may be skewed to those who agree to take the survey. With this tool, there is also lots of room for misinterpretation of questions, and people can lie about potentially uncomfortable answers like income. We discuss next steps for this tool in section three.

A Gehl surveyor in Queens, New York.

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools


Arena Play, a prototype at the Market Street Prototyping Festival

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Observational Analysis 0238

Count 1 1 2

Observe

3 2

Analyze

The Public Space / Public Life surveys capture pedestrian, age, gender, and stationary activities for a place. We added social groups to our survey to learn more about the dynamics of social activity in place.

Method We used Gehl’s ethnographic and observational analysis methods to observe behavior of people spending time in our test sites. We looked at age/gender breakdowns, stationary activities, and groups of people engaging in social activity. We quickly learned that measuring groups of people can be a very subjective exercise. How can you tell if two people are engaging with one another? What if there

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools

is a group of four people but at any given moment only two people are talking to one another? If two people are sitting on a bench together are they a group? We decided to delineate between active and passive social activities in public space, focusing on active groups. We recognize that while both are valuable, other tools in our toolbox measure the economic levels of who is in a space at a given time much better than observational analysis.


Types of group social activity (partial list) Active

dogwalkers

taking photos for strangers

children playing

eating together

strolling with acquaintances

talking

parallel activity (like sitting and watching the same activity)

co-working

active recreation

Passive

watching cultural activity

commercial activity (like sitting waiting in line)

On the spectrum of social activities, we measured only active groups, categorized by an active engagement like talking, playing, an exchange, or a purposeful social activity. Passive group activities such as sitting on a bench together, sharing in a public performance, or even waiting in line for a cashier are also important on the spectrum of social mixing, but are captured through other tools.

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Summary statistics of reported income, 40 people each

14

Patricia’s Green

n

Union Square ACTUAL INCOME < $10,000

Results + Analysis

$10,000-14,999 $15,000-24,999 $25,000-34,999

We observed more social group activity in Union Square, $35,000-49,999 of group sizes. $50,000-74,999 This makes sense $75,000-99,999 $100,000 + with families. as it is a tourist destination and is popular

Summary statistics of reported and aeach broader array income, 40 people

4

4

Group size

Patricia’s Green Patricia’s Green

Union Square Union Square

Union Square also demonstratedACTUAL a more even split INCOME < $10,000 between men and women, as well as age breakdown; $10,000-14,999 INCOME destination perhaps also because it is more ofACTUAL a family $15,000-24,999 < $50,000 $25,000-34,999 than Patricia’s Green. $50,000-99,999 $35,000-49,999 $100,000 + $50,000-74,999

$75,000-99,999 The relationship between more social activity at Union $100,000 + Square and gender parity is interesting for future Patricia’s Green Union Square iterations of this tool.

10+ 9 8 7 6 5 Group Size 4 3 2 1 size Group 10+ 9 8 7 6 5 4 Age 3 2 65+ 1 31-64

Age

Union Square

STATIONARY ACTIVITY Stationary Activity

STATIONARY ACTIVITY

Patricia’s Green:

19%

Union Square Stationary Activity

15% 19%

NARY ACTIVITY

(of 36 people)Union posted to instagram from the plaza Patricia’s Green Square (of 40 people) posted instagram from the plaza < $10,000

Standing $10,000-14,999 $15,000-24,999 Standing 300 Waiting for Transport $25,000-34,999 Union Square: Bench Seating $35,000-49,999 250 Cafe Seating $50,000-74,999 $75,000-99,999 Secondary Seating $100,000Sitting + 200 Folding/Moveable Chairs (of 36 people) posted to instagram from the plaza Lying Patricia’s Green UnionDown Square Children Playing 150 Commercial Activity 100 Active Social Activity ACTUAL INCOME < $50,000 Cultural Activity 50 Physical Activity 50 $50,000-99,999

15%

10 AM

11

12

0

10 AM

11

0%Union Square 10 AM

100%

11

12

P

S

50%

50%

Patricia’s Green 100%

Union Square 100%

0%

0% 11

12

10 AM

11

12

50%

11 Green 12 0%Patricia’s 10 AM

11

12

50 0

0%Union Square 10 AM

100%

11

12

Flatiron RACE

Gender

50%

Patricia’s Green

100% Standing Standing < 7 Waiting for Transport 11 12 Bench Seating 0% 10 AM 11 12 Men Cafe Seating Secondary Seating Sitting 50% Women Folding/Moveable Chairs Lying Down Group size Children Playing Patricia’s Green Commercial Activity 10+ Social Activity100% Active Gender Green 9 Cultural Activity 0%Patricia’s 10 AM 11 12 100% 8 Physical Activity

Union Square

0% 10 AM

11

12

50%

100%

10 AM

11

50% 0%

0%

10 AM

11

11

12

12

0%

10 AM

11

12

10 AM

11

12

Age 65+

12

Patricia’s Green

Union Square

100%

100%

50%

50%

31-64 15-30 7-14 11

0%

11

50

Corona Census RACE 0% 12 12

10 AM

11

Cor RAC 0

12

Greater diversity of ages observed in Union Square Patricia’s Green:

12

Gender

(of 40 people) posted instagram from the plaza

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools

Union Square:

ST

Corona RACE

50%

10 AM

11

P

12

Age

<7

26

Flat RAC

gender parity observed in Union50% Square 50%

0%

Similar stationary activities observed in both places, with 75% of people spending time standing or sitting

19%

50 0

100%

Flatiron Census Union Square 100% RACE 0%Union Square

10 AM

$100,000 +

0

12

50%

7 Greater 6 5 Men 4 3 Women 2 1

ACTUAL INCOME

11

31-64

7-14

Patricia’s Green Union Square: Stationary Summary statistics of reported Patricia’s Green: Square income, 40 people each Activity

10 AM

Gender 15-30

(of 40 people) posted instagram from the plaza

0%Patricia’s Green 100%

100%

65+

$100,000 +

Patricia’s Green

50%

50%

< $50,000 $50,000-99,999

50%

Greater diversity of group sizes, and more groups 7-14 observed in Union Square <7

ACTUAL INCOME

100%

10 AM

15-30

Union Square

Patricia’s Green 100%

Patricia’s Green

Union Square

100%

100%

50%

50%

Men Women


Evaluating the tool This tool gives us an exciting way to generate proxy data for the “socialness” of a space. Although we routinely measure other elements of public life, we have never routinely added social grouping to understand this in a quantitative way, which opens up new types of questions we can ask and correlations we can draw. Through prototyping this tool, we found that while the nuance of group size was interesting, what was most valuable to us was the binary of whether or not someone was in a group. In future iterations of this tool, we will develop a binary way to measure whether someone is in a group or not, and refine what “counts” as social activity for our purposes.

or spontaneous, or any longitudinal data about how social interactions change or impact people over time. And, although the data collected is extremely accurate, it only represents one snapshot in time that does not correct for changes over time or any outliers. Finally, like our other tools, this tool has some sampling weakness. The data is from one or two days and only a few sites because it is expensive and time consuming to collect by putting a person in public space all day. We talk about next steps for this tool in section three.

Another reason this tool is valuable is that observational analysis generates an extremely accurate portrait of the dynamics of a place in time. This technique relies on the nuances of empirical analysis by a trained volunteer, who also builds a tacit knowledge of a place and can add additional insights to a public space evaluation. However, although we can capture who is socializing, we cannot capture economic data of those people socializing, whether or not their interaction was planned

Patricia’s Green

Gehl Studio

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from

In search of typologies of social mixing and social spaces We describe a gradient of closeness in social mixing, and the design cues that invite for that mixing. By Blaine Merker April 10, 2015 www.nextcity.org/column/in-public Can the design a public place help people from different walks of life to connect? Over the last two months, my colleagues at Gehl Studio and I have asked hundreds of people in San Jose to describe their favorite places. Not just strictly public places, but malls and churches, dive-bars and street cafes, corner stores and markets. Most of them are not designed specifically to encourage different people to mix, though most of them do. It turns out that the places people love are usually the places where they also feel comfortable meeting new people. More than threequarters of those we heard from not only socialized in their favorite place, but also met new people there. And more than half of them continued to see those new acquaintances in other places. What we’re observing may not just be social mixing— it might just be mixing that “sticks.”

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit

Could a designer reverseengineer a public space to support social mixing by cracking the code of places that already mix people well? We know the opposite can be true: plenty of urban spaces suppress interaction and empathy between people by seeming unsafe, uncomfortable, just plain too crowded…or not crowded enough. But if we really understood the mechanics of mixing, could we design for it? Since Frederick Law Olmsted declared in 1870 that his newlyopened Central Park “exercises a distinctly harmonizing and refining … influence favorable to courtesy, self-control, and temperance,” the design of civic space has been intertwined with progressivism that can, at times, border on social engineering. Designers ever since have wrestled with crafting public spaces that invite diverse groups to mingle while communicating codes of behavior that aim to minimize social friction. It’s

those codes that are the tricky part. Olmsted observed that the visitors to his new park were “school-girl daughters”, “country people”, “gentleman”, “visitors” from out of town, even “ruffians”—in short, almost sort of person in New York City. My colleagues Eric Scharnhorst and Anna Muessig have recently prototyped intriguing new tools that decode today’s digital signatures into profiles of diversity in public space. But even this data-rich portrait of the diversity in public spaces doesn’t tell us whether the gentleman and the ruffian trade pleasantries, and, if they do, whether it knits them more closely or reinforces existing boundaries. I am a designer, and for most of my career I’ve been fascinated by what physical environments do to set up human interaction. Design is often over-burdened with social

Member of the Turf Feinz Eric “eNinga” Davis, Photo: Mike Kepka, The Chronicle


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and political agendas—and usually disappoints as a way of achieving them. Still, I believe that urbanists can do better to understand not what design makes happen but what design makes possible. A city where people of any background can co-occupy places and affect each other’s experience is, to me, at the heart of civic life. Do strangers need to talk? Not necessarily. But a range of interactions should be comfortable and not uncommon among people from different walks of life for the city to earn its status as humankind’s prevailing habitat. My own theory of mixing is, so far, based on stories from people I know who tend to meet people

in public. It’s mostly hunches, but ones that could be tested with data. This “mechanics of mixing” breaks down into two distinct but related phenomena. First is the type of connection that can develop between people in public. The second is the quality of the space where that interaction takes place. What happens when strangers meet: Towards a spectrum of mixing Interactions between people who don’t know each other span a spectrum of increasing reciprocity, and the level of connection has something to do with the spatial qualities of the place that set up the interaction in the first place.

At the low end of the spectrum, imagine a New York City subway car like the one photographed here by a young Stanley Kubrick. Patrons eye each other, exchange a few words, but generally exhibit what Erving Goffman called “civil inattention”, a low level of social connection that could also just be called tolerance. However there is evidence to support the idea that simply encountering difference leads people to become more tolerant of it (known as the “contact hypothesis”). For a slightly more engaged connection, ride the BART from San Francisco to Oakland today. Turfing (“taking up room on the floor”) is an Oakland-based hip hop dance where performers use the train car’s handholds to flip and spin, inviting commuters to break away from their cellphones (or at least to

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Man carrying flowers on a crowded subway. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.37C

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit


start recording on them). This direct engagement, often across class and culture lines, is noted for creating appreciation of the performance that temporarily binds strangers together, lifting the mood and creating conversation in otherwise silent cars. A catalyst like commerce can spark it but a true exchange may need several of the spatial qualities in the next section to get started. It is also possible to build up to a moment of exchange through repeated habits of tolerance and appreciation (imagine waving to a neighbor daily until one of you stops and says hello). In San Jose, many residents we surveyed reported this taking place spontaneously in social places like the San Pedro Square Market and Jackson Street in Japantown where

the pace is slow and the spaces full of people sitting or strolling. Flea Markets are also a prototypical site for social exchange between buyers and sellers. A watershed is crossed when people agree to reconnect on their own terms, outside of the happenstance of a mixing space. It often takes place at physical thresholds between public and private spaces: lobbies and entrances, beginnings and ends of events. Even though the act may be as low risk as exchanging emails, it extends the connection, however tentatively, into the future. But the success of real social bonds finally depends on many actions outside the initial meeting, moving towards greater reciprocity between people. Jane Jacobs described

neighbors communally looking out for each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s children. Pickup at the local basketball court builds bonds between the players that outlast the game. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s likely that most connections that reach this level are between neighbors or people who have routines or interests in common. Whatever form it takes, these habits of meeting build trust over time. These are some of the ways people mix in space. But in what type of space would you talk to a stranger? The DNA of a mixing space Assuming that the demographics and social context provide diverse groups access to a space (we have some new tools to assess where this is already happening), what qualities

Alameda Flea Market. Photo: Ganesha_Isis via Flickr

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of a space make higher levels of mixing possible? Cues that are explicit (regulations, security personnel and the messages in signs) and implicit (invitations for various uses or users like benches for seniors or play equipment for kids) give permission for a diversity of users to stay. Similarly, a clear sense of territory creates a safe space for observing others and interacting more comfortably. Copenhagen’s recently renovated Israels Plads has well defined skateboard terrain, basketball courts, play areas, seating and cafes all within range for mutual observation. An artificial closeness or “compression” of personal space helps overcome the bubble of

The Neighborhood Postcard Project

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit

privacy. While the right amount of compression to kindle an interaction between strangers differs between places and cultures, a little of it seems to help create opportunities to interact without the need to make an uncomfortable overture. Respondents to our surveys in San Jose ranked feelings of relaxation and safety most highly in places they also feel most social. Besides basic requirements like good lighting and “eyes on the street”, comfortable spaces seem also have an important feature: an exit strategy. The exit strategy can be a physical exit, or graceful social one. The Alameda Flea Market provides an ideal amount of compression and exit strategy, since moving between stalls is an acceptable way to leave an interaction.

The ability to catch one another’s attention is also critical to even in the most casual engagement. Advertising and technology increasingly compete with the people directly around us for this scarce commodity. If all these previous conditions set up the potential for a social interaction, there still must be an excuse for it to take place. Triangulation provides the momentary connection between two new people, the “glue” that causes the interaction to stick long enough to possibly set. In our surveys, people gave myriad reasons for meeting new people, from musical events to children playing and pets running, and—frequently—friendly baristas. Triangulation can even


be sent in the form of a postcard, as illustrated in the work of artist Hunter Franks. We should be interested in how strangers meet in public because we aren’t connecting across class and culture in very many other places. Peer-to-peer and e-commerce has made it much easier to connect with culturally similar, albeit unfamiliar, people to meet basic needs without connecting with people who are physically closer though further away economically or culturally. In our increasingly digital, culturally sorted, spatially segregated and economically unequal society, public spaces still perform that basic function of collapsing difference through proximity—whether at the civic or neighborhood scale—better

than anything else humans have come up with. This month, the Market Street Prototyping Festival tests fifty placemaking projects along two miles of San Francisco’s most prominent thoroughfare. Market Street unites seven of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, from the Tenderloin to the Financial District. The majority of these crowd-sourced designs aim to encourage social interaction. While these projects can’t on their own overcome the economic and political forces that sort urban populations, they create a temporary site for countervailing experience. And with a better understanding of the mechanics of mixing, cities can focus investment in places like Market Street that are already primed to engage diverse

groups. Will it make society more integrated? Probably not: but better mixing spaces can provide an opportunity that is increasingly hard to come by—people from different walks of life, meeting comfortably, in public.

-Blaine Merker is the Head of Team at Gehl Studio’s San Francisco office, co-founder of the art and design studio Rebar, and one of the creators of Park(ing) Day. Gehl Studio is evaluating the impact of the Market Street Prototyping Festival during the month of April.

Copenhagen’s Isreals Plads. Photo: Blaine Merker

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Census for City Streets This tool brings census data down to the street level by connecting data about how people use space to the neighborhoods they come from. It opens up a new method for mapping places we care about, and engages a large number of people passively, without asking them to do anything extra.

Method

People take photos in public

Collect the 10,000 most recent photos posted in a space

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Map each phototakerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photos, estimate their home neighborhood

Using census data, find median income and % unemployed data for each userâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s neighborhood

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools

Aggregate data for all photo-takers


Connecting Census data...

...to people-data

Granularity of Census Tracts Median Income, ACS 2013 < $10,000 $10,000-14,999 $15,000-24,999 $25,000-34,999 $35,000-49,999 $50,000-74,999 $75,000-99,999 $100,000 +

1 mile Median Income, ACS 2013

Instagram Data (1,000,000 most recent photos)

< $10,000

$35,000-49,999

$10,000-14,999

$50,000-74,999

$15,000-24,999

$75,000-99,999

$25,000-34,999

$100,000 +

We draw a bounding box around a place of interest. This could be a square, a park, or a large boulevard. Using this bounding box, we went to our social media API of choice, which for this prototype is Instagram. We chose instagram because it satisfied our selection criteria (see table at right). It is designed for people to post about places they love, while they are there. It has high usership, is smart-phone only so it captures people on-the-go, and was easy to capture data for this test. Using the Instagram API, we collected the most recent 10,000 photos posted by Instagram users within our bounding box who have their locations services turned on. We cannot capture people who do not have their location services turned on. The location data we are looking for is embedded in the EXIF data (short for Exchangeable Image File, a format that is a standard for storing interchange information in digital photography image file).

gather economic information about each of our usersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; neighborhoods. Finally, we put all the data from each of those 10,000 users together to paint a portrait of potential economic mix of this public space. It is important to note that this method doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t capture demographic information about the photo-takers themselves, but rather about the neighborhood where they live, or who they are likely to be. This is one way to bring census data down to the street level.

Once we have identified who has been posting to Instagram from a given public place, we then collect up to 1,000 of the most recent photos taken by each of those people. We can estimate their home neighborhood based on the geolocated data in each of their other photos. Then, we use the Census API to

Gehl Studio

35


Hayes Valley

Union Square

Sample instagram photos from our test sites

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools


Ice skating in Union Square

Who are we counting?

Many people take and post photographs of places and people they love, and post these photos on Instagram every day. 26% of all internet users in the U.S. use Instagram. 50% of these users use instagram more than once per day. (source: Pew Reserch Center)

Patriciaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Green 61% use Instagram and 19% posted in the plaza (out of 49 respondents) At Union Square 51% use Instagram and 15% posted in the plaza (out of 76 respondents) (Source: Toolkit intercept surveys)

Census for City Streets: Potential data sets

Census for City Streets: Potential data sets

High usership* Instagram Flickr Twitter Foursquare Facebook

Yes (300 million) No (92 million) Yes (288 million) No (55 million) Yes (1393 million)

Spatial and public focus Yes Yes No No (merchant-focus) No

Smartphone only Yes

No No Yes No

User data is mostly public Yes Yes Yes No No

* Global active user numbers from Digital Marketing Ramblings, http://expandedramblings.com

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Results and Analysis We were happy that this tool validated some of our hunches about who was spending time in our test sites. Our hunch was that Hayes Valley was more of a neighborhood place, and Union Square more of a tourist place. This hypothesis was validated in our data set. In fact, the “magnetism” of the different public space virtually mirrored one another. 59% of visitors to Patricia’s Green are from the bay area, while 62% of visitors to Union Square are not from the Bay Area.

Local reach

Density, cou Density, c home locati home loca Instagram u Instagram a photo in in th a photo < 5< 5

5 -59- 9

1010 - 19 -

2020 - 49 50+ 50+

<5 5-9 10 - 19 20 - 49 50+ 5 Miles 5 Miles

Patricia’s Green Patricia’s Green

PATRICIA’S GREEN

5 Miles 5 Miles

Union Square Union Square

Density count of estimated home locations of 10,000 Instagram users who took a photo in the plaza

Patricia’s Green attracts

59%

of its visitors from the Bay Area

38

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Prototyping New Tools

UNION SQUARE


Global reach

PATRICIA’S GREEN

UNION SQUARE

Global visitors to Patricia’s Green and Union Square

Union Square attracts

62%

of its visitors from outside the Bay Area

Gehl Studio

39


Results and Analysis (continued)

Income Mix

Using the Census for City Streets, both Patricia’s Green and Union Square represented people from a diverse mixture of neighborhood median incomes.

Incomes in both test sites were mixed. However, 50% of all people surveyed were either very low or very highincome, while the instagram tool was more balanced.

Patricia’s Green attracts people from neighborhoods that are a little wealthier and a little more employed.

Both methods showed Union Square as having a larger share of low income people.

Summary statistics of estimated home census In evaluating our tool, we compared our Census for Citytracts, 10,000 people each

Streets findings with our intercept findings. We found Median Income (Cencus for City Streets) Patricia’s Green Union Square that our intercept interviewees were more likely to be in Summary statistics of estimated home a higher income bracket than our estimates from our census tracts, 10,000 people each statistics of estimated home instagram-powered tool. This may indicate that Summary our Patricia’speople Green each Union Square census tracts, 10,000 sampling methods for intercept surveys misses those that make less money. It could also mean that our Census for City Streets tool is skewed. Or both. Patricia’s Green Union Square

Summ cens

Summary statis census tracts, a MEDIAN INCOME < $10,000

Sum

Romare cen

$10,000-14,999

MEDIAN INCOME

<$15,000-24,999 $10,000 $10,000-14,999 $25,000-34,999 $15,000-24,999

$35,000-49,999 $25,000-34,999 MEDIAN INCOME $50,000-74,999 $35,000-49,999 < $10,000 $50,000-74,999 $75,000-99,999

For a first test, we are pleased to be able to look at real figures and continue to improve our methods.

$75,000-99,999

$10,000-14,999 + $15,000-24,999

$100,000 $100,000 +

Patricia’s Green Union Square Patricia’s Green Union Square Summary statistics of estimated home census of tracts, 10,000 people each statistics estimated home

Summary census tracts, 10,000 people each Patricia’s Green

Union Square

Self-reported income (intercept survey)

Patricia’s Green

Union Square Square

Summary statistics of estimated home Patricia’s Summary Green statistics of reported Union income, 40 people each census tracts, all 2600 instagram users in 2014

home h

$25,000-34,999 $35,000-49,999 $50,000-74,999 MEDIAN$75,000-99,999 INCOME < $50,000

$100,000 + $50,000-99,999 MEDIAN INCOME

Romare Bearden Park

Patricia’s Green

Union Square

< $50,000

< $10,000

$50,000-99,999 $10,000-14,999 MEDIAN INCOME $25,000-34,999 $35,000-49,999 < $10,000 $50,000-74,999

MEDIAN INCOME

Summary statistics of estimated home census tracts, 10,000 people each Patricia’s Green Union Square Patricia’s Green Union Square

< $10,000 $10,000-14,999 $15,000-24,999 $25,000-34,999 $35,000-49,999 $50,000-74,999 $75,000-99,999 $100,000 +

Romare Bearden Park

on Square

Summary statistics of estimated home census tracts, 10,000 people each Patricia’s Green Union Square Patricia’sGreen Green UnionSquare Square Patricia’s Union

cens

Romare

MEDIAN INCOME $100,000 +

$15,000-24,999 $100,000 +

on Square

Romare Summary statis census tracts, Suma

$10,000-14,999 MEDIAN INCOME $75,000-99,999 ACTUAL INCOME <$15,000-24,999 $10,000 $100,000 + < $50,000 $10,000-14,999 $25,000-34,999 $50,000-99,999 $15,000-24,999 $35,000-49,999 $25,000-34,999 $100,000 + $35,000-49,999 $50,000-74,999 $50,000-74,999 UNEMPLOYMENT $75,000-99,999 MEDIAN <$75,000-99,999 3%INCOME $100,000 + $100,000 < 3 -$50,000 5.9% +

Grou

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 Romare 3 Romare 2 1

6$50,000-99,999 - 8.9% 9$100,000 - 11.9% + 12 - 15% > 15%

MEDIAN INCOME

Summary statistics of estimated Unemployment (Censushome for City Streets) Patricia’s Green census tracts, 10,000 people each Union Square

< $50,000 $50,000-99,999 $100,000 +

Patricia’s

Summary statistics of estimated home Green Union Square census tracts, 10,000 people each Patricia’s Green

Union Square

ACTUAL INCOME UNEMPLOYMENT < $50,000

<$50,000-99,999 3% INCOME MEDIAN 3$100,000 5.9%+ <- $50,000 6 $50,000-99,999 - 8.9% 9 $100,000 - 11.9% + UNEMPLOYMENT < 6%- 15% 12 6% + UNEMPLOYMENT > 15% UNEMPLOYMENT < 3% < 3%

home h Romare Bearden Park

on Square

Patricia’s Green

Union Square

33 - 5.9%

5.9%

6 - 8.9% 6-

8.9%

Summary statistics of estimated home Patricia’s Green: census tracts, 10,000 people Patricia’s Green each Union Square

< 3% 3 - 5.9%

PROXY in Hayes Valley

6 - 8.9%

9 - 11.9% 12 - 15%

40

> 15%

Public Life Diversity Toolkit

Romare Bearden Park

on Square

UNEMPLOYMENT

19%

Patricia’s Green Patricia’s Green Prototyping New Tools

15-30 Romare

7-14

<7

9 - 11.9%

12 - 15%

- 15%

> 15% UNEMPLOYMENT

Romare

< 6% Union Square (of 40 people) instagram from 6% the+ plaza Unionposted Square UNEMPLOYMENT < 6% UNEMPLOYMENT 6% +

Union Square:

31-64

9 - 11.9%

12 > 15% UNEMPLOYMENT

Romare 65+

< 3%

3 - 5.9% UNEMPLOYMENT 6 - <8.9% 6% 9 - 6% 11.9% +

Men

Women


Evaluating the Tool We were very sceptical of this tool. We knew that users of Instagram are skewed towards young people who can afford a smart phone. We predicted that few people surveyed would use Instagram, and if they did that even fewer people would use it in the plaza. We were pleasantly surprised by higher-than-expected Instagram user rates in both tests. In our sample, we found that 18% of people interviewed in our two test plazas had posted a photo to Instagram from the plaza, meaning that we were capturing about 18% of people present in these plazas. Looking at research on smart phone and Instagram usage, we feel confident that this is a good proxy data set for what is actually happening in real time. Although not everyone uses Instagram, those who do post frequently, with half using the site daily, more than any other major social media network except Facebook (daily users: Instagram: 49% Facebook: 70%; other social media: 13-36% Source: Pew, 2014). While we know that not everyone has a smartphone, in San Francisco, 74% of all residents have a smart phone or tablet, including nearly 50% of people who make less than $30,000 per year (source: Pew Research Center 2014, Nielson 2013). In addition, we are happy to have found a people-data proxy that has a place-in-time focus like Instagram. Of all the popular social media tools for capturing how people move around space, Instagram is the only one that is place-based and mobile-only by design. It is built around taking and posting photos in the moment, meaning that people are more likely to use it in the place they are spending time, not waiting to read an article, or pin a photo when they get back home or to the office. This data set is cheaper then observational analysis because it takes less time, and it allows us to toggle back and forth in time. We can identify sites remotely and do the analysis from anywhere, and on any site. This tool allows us to ask new questions and gain new knowledge about how people use the city. We were able to show the characteristics of the “neighborhoods” that were represented at a place, and local and global social reach of public places – this has huge implications for bottom-up planning we will address in our design brief. However, our tool has limitations. Not everyone uses Instagram (26% of all online adults), meaning our

tool only captures a fraction of people spending time in public places. In the US, Instagram’s user base is skewed to be younger - 53% of users are between the ages of 18-29. Besides young adults, women are particularly likely to be on Instagram, along with Hispanics and African Americans. Additionally, the groups of people who are less likely to be on the internet on their smartphone, such as very low income people, very young people, or the elderly, are precisely the people we want to capture. We have yet to correct for age, income, and racial skews in our Instagram data. In places with censored internet access like China, this tool has major limitations. There are tools that exist that guess gender and race from profile information that we could explore to try to correct this, as well as other corrections to the data based on known biases. Although some of our home location tests were extremely accurate (it guessed the exact building of one of our colleagues based on her Instagram account), guessing home location based on photo locations was not always accurate. Popular tourist destinations like Las Vegas seemed to be over-represented in the data. This is because people may take more photos in Las Vegas then they do in their own neighborhood. Another issue with geolocation data is its accuracy down to the foot. Does a geotag know if you are inside a private space or in the adjacent plaza? In our next iteration, we will define a “minimum viable square footage” of our open space tests in order to take more precautions that our tool measures only public life in public space. Another limitation is that because this tool runs on proxy data, the economic qualities we report are not of people but of the census tracts that these people likely come from. This means that the method describes characteristics of the “neighborhoods” represented in a plaza, but not characteristics of the individuals. Nor does it tell us who is interacting with one another, only who is in the same place at the same time. And finally, the elephant in the room: is this type of analysis blurring the lines of privacy concerns? And if so, do we have a good enough reason to do the work? We think that transparently using user-generated big data in the service of making cities more just and diverse might be an excellent use of this information. But we, along with everyone making and thinking about big civic data, want to respect this digital ethical frontier, and engage stakeholders and generators of this data about whether they agree. We discuss next steps for this tool in section three.

Gehl Studio

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from

Reporting Back: What your Instagram Feed has in Common with a Ballot Box We report back on our findings. by Eric Scharnhorst March 5, 2015 www.nextcity.org/column/in-public At first, it seems like voting and taking pictures have little in common.

the photo was taken. This means that some photos can be mapped.

But begin with the idea that a photo helps one memory stand taller than the others in the same way a vote bumps a candidate ahead in the race. And remember that a ballot box is a collection of people’s votes, sort of like Instagram is a collection of people’s photos.

When an Instagrammer’s photos of a city are mapped together, an interesting thing happens: Parts of the map are empty, and others are crowded with photos. The best example I’ve found of this is a series of maps by data artist Eric Fischer. Fischer mapped photos he found on Flickr of San Francisco according to whether the photo was taken by a local or a tourist, based on the the invisible digital stamps embedded in the photos. The two sets of maps were completely different; tourists traveled one San Francisco, while locals saw another.

What if we could tally up these public photos like they were votes in a ballot box? This idea is worth exploring because there’s something about photos. I don’t take a lot of them. But when I do, I take pictures of the people I love, special events, and scenic places. My favorites combine all three. And when I take a photo, my phone invisibly stamps it with mechanical notes, sort of like the clues written by hand on the back of an old Polaroid. Sometimes this metadata includes the location of where

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit

These maps hint at a new form of public engagement that can include not only the 100 people who show up at a community meeting, but also the 10,000 people who skip the meeting to spend time at nearby public spaces. Building upon Eric’s work, my

colleagues at Gehl Studio and I recently experimented with using photos to learn about the mixture of people at different places in San Francisco. We looked at Union Square, a central plaza in downtown surrounded by shopping and hotels; and Patricia’s Green, a grassy neighborhood park with benches and a playground. We were curious about the social life and demographic mixing at each of these public spaces. Our curiosity was piqued when we went looking for a census for city streets. Unlike the census that captures where people live, there is no regularly collected dataset for where people spend time in public spaces. Places that welcome a good mixture of different people can help foster connections between cultures and across social strata. But if diversity in public space is so important, why don’t we have the tools to find it? We asked ourselves, how could people help us build this dataset automatically?


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To do this, we decided to use Instagram because it is simple and popular, and there’s something special about its photos. Instagram provides a reliable, fine-grained, frequently updated dataset without any forms or complicated optin mechanisms. Many of us participate in this tool not as a cumbersome task, but because we want to. The low barrier to engagement of social mediarelated data is what we call “passive engagement” because we are able to include people passively, by carefully sifting through the compost pile of public data. Our first test looked at the geographic reach of Union Square and Patricia’s Green. We cycled through the Instagram photos posted from each place. Then we roughly estimated where each Instagrammer came

from based on other Instagram photos posted on the account. Mapping the data globally reminded us of what we intuitively knew. Union Square is popular with tourists while Patricia’s Green had a stronger local reach, with 59 percent of its Instagramming visitors from the Bay Area. By contrast, only 38 percent of Instagramming visitors were local at Union Square. After mapping the social reach, we predicted the demographic mix of each space. We did this by seeing each Instagrammer as a representative of his or her home neighborhood. Then we drilled into the census data to get a demographic picture of the entire set of home neighborhoods represented by each place’s Instagrammers.

SHOWBOX, Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco, CA

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit

Together, the neighborhoods of 10,000 of the most recent Instagrammers in each site helped paint a portrait of the economic diversity of these public spaces. We found that Instagrammers in both places represented a diverse mixture of incomes, and Patricia’s Green was a little wealthier and a little more employed. Bringing census data down to the street level can help us see how economic diversity plays out in public space. And for a first test, we’re happy that 20,000 people were represented. Imagine handing out 20,000 questionnaires, or hosting 20,000 people at a community meeting. But this tool doesn’t do it all. It gives us an overview of people in a space, and how economically different they might be. But group size, the mixture of


Living Innovation Zone in San Francisco, CA

stationary activities, pedestrian flows, and how and why different people engage with one another are all unknown. Plus, not everyone posts photos to Instagram. 15 percent of people we interviewed at Union Square and 19 percent at Patricia’s Green used Instagram and posted in the plaza. This was a pleasant surprise because we expected it to be lower. But it’s nowhere close to including everyone. And it doesn’t tell us if people are talking to each other, or if they form lasting social bonds. And predicting a photographer’s neighborhood doesn’t tell us anything about the photographer. This is great news for privacy. But it means we are registering neighborhoods, not the people themselves. This is why we see passive public

engagement as just one tool in our toolbox. To finish the job, we enhanced our traditional analysis of pedestrians and stationary activities to include social grouping and intercept surveys to investigate the triggers for unplanned social encounters. This combination of tools works together to build a better understanding of the social life and economic diversity of public places. Even with its limitations, we think the potential for this toolkit is huge. This approach can help us see how people respond differently to a place over time, and how, or if, its mixture of people changes as the space changes. We can look at the details, like how a sunny day compares to a rainy day. And we can look at the bigger picture, like how providing more room for sitting and walking affects the

social and economic composition of the people using a space. If we scale this tool up, we can imagine a whole new map of the city – a public life diversity map. A better understanding of how different places invite different mixtures of people can help us make places that are inviting for everyone. Instead of experts picking sites from the top-down, the photo-postingpublic can collectively build their own grassroots map. And their photos can be cast like votes that represent people in the places that bubble up to the map’s surface. -Eric Scharnhorst is a project manager at Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.

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Design Brief for a Public Life Diversity Toolkit


3


Evaluating our Toolkit We took our prototyped tools and gave them a hard look: what worked and what didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t? How did our new tools achieve our goals and answer our research questions? What new ideas did our prototypes generate? We present an analysis of our prototyping process here and a design brief for ways to continue to hone the Public Life Diversity Toolkit.

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All in all, this was a successful first test. The three tools work in tandem to solve for sampling issues in each. But, in our prototypes we found new holes, and thought of new tools to answer our research questions. We need to do more tests to test and refine this toolkit. Fortunately, we have opportunities to do this with current Gehl Studio projects and through Gehl Institute.

We can also complement our vision for this work by formalizing relationships with skilled researchers and data providers in the social sciences, sensor technology, and urban data community who will improve the effectiveness of our toolbox. We can also work with community groups thinking about public life diversity and get their input on how they would use this data.

Specific suggestions for how to improve our tools are described below. In general, the most important next step to improve the toolkit will be to improve the rigor of our methods. We need to correct for known biases and discover new biases in our data and then correct for those. Normalizing our data sets based on biases in our data sets and comparing our findings to local census data are important next steps.

Once we improve the methods of our toolkit, we can move to phases two and three of this project: performing design research in places with high levels of public life diversity, and from this research generate a guide that shares process and design inspiration for civic leaders to invite public life diversity.

Public Life Diversity Toolkit Design Brief


Intercept Survey Contribution to the Toolkit • Accurate data about who is in a space at a given time, not proxy data • Captures some data about social mixing: who is in space, whether or not they mix with strangers • Captures some data about economic integration by asking groups about their income levels • Captures qualitative data about place: what triggers interactions with others • Helps correct skew of Census for City Streets data by validating social media participation estimates • Surveyors collecting data immerse themselves in the place, and come away with a deep understanding of how the place works

Core Challenge • Sample sizes are small, and not representative of all users • Sample is skewed towards those who agree to the survey and who the surveyor feels comfortable approaching • Samples are limited by time and space because they require a person to collect data

Next Steps for Iteration • More rigorous methodology for sampling, and other social science best-practices for correcting sampling biases in intercept surveys

Surveyor at the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco, CA

• Improve survey questions about income to delineate househole income or personal income • Capture income of groups socializing

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Observational Analysis Contribution to the Toolkit • Accurate data about who is socializing in space at a given time, not proxy data • People collecting data immerse themselves in the place, and come away with a deep understanding of how it works

Core Challenge • No ability to capture economic data about people in place • Samples are limited by time and space because they require a person to collect data

Next Steps for Iteration • Enhance tool with qualitative place-data: Correlate public life diversity data with other qualitative place-data such as public space quality criteria and favorite places. What are design signals that tell diverse groups of people they are welcome? • More rigorous methodology for sampling, and other best-practices in social science research • Ability to capture public space quality data (next iteration of toolkit) Surveyors at the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco, CA

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Design Brief


Census for City Streets Contribution to the Toolkit • Ability to estimate economic mix of people in a public space (proxy data, based on home neighborhoods) • Ability to estimate this economic mix at any point in time, over large area • Can perform these tasks quickly, not as limited by space or time as other tools

Core Challenge • Economic data is proxy for estimated home location of user, not user herself • Sample is limited to Instagram users who have their location services turned on, and biased to the users of this app • Does not collect data on social interactions, only who was in the same place at the same time

Next Steps for Iteration • Normalize data based on known bias of smartphone users in the Bay Area and intercept survey data • Test tool on other social media platforms with better coverage • Enhance tool with environmental sensors. Sensors can be cheap and capture data about how people move through place: pedestrians and bicycle counts, path-tracing, velocity, grouping, duration of staying activities, and other qualities. Working with sensor developers will give developers test cases and enhance our data.

Improvements necessary to improve our census for city streets

• Form strategic partnerships with data providers such as Google, cell phone carriers, Facebook, navigation apps, online dating sites, and others. • Improve method for only capturing people in public space (not buildings, e.g. thresholds for “minimum viable public space” for this tool] • Scale up: generate a citywide map that can score public spaces according to economic diversity and local/global reach and generate city-specific, citywide baselines

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Adding new tools to the Toolkit We are thrilled that our prototype works and that it is helping us answer new questions about social mixing - and helping us ask better questions about the relationship between public space and public life. As we develop our questions and our methods, we see the potential for new data and new methods to help us answer these questions in better ways. The following tools represent ideas, hunches, bursts of inspiration, and nagging questions that came up during the prototyping process. They are questions and ideas that we were only able to have after understanding the limitations of the tools we were prototyping, conversations with colleagues and peer researchers, and through visualizing or explaining our methods.

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Design Brief


1

Public Life Diversity Index Most urban research occurs because of a top-down directive to uncover information about how a certain place works. Often in urban design and development, this is informed by politics, infrastructure investments, or, sometimes, lack of creativity. Once a site is selected, research is performed and presented. But, this research often leaves out a city-wide context. Maybe a different location in the city was more appropriate to look at but was mised because of a limited view. The tools prototyped in the Census for City Streets open up a new way to see the city and to identify sites for further research or investment. This Toolkit could generate a cityspecific, city-wide baseline for public life diversity and a rubric for comparing or scoring different public places within that city. A tool like this could change the way we select sites for research, investment, or policy intervention, by allowing sites with high public life diversity to rise to the top, from the bottom up.

An Index for Public Life Diversity could help identify new sites of interest

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2

Social / Spatial Network Mapping Social network mapping is often used to identify “connector” people who serve a connecting function between two or more social or professional networks. What if public spaces acted the same way? We could explore the social dimension of data by analyzing social networks through “likes”, “retweets” etc, and layering this over where people are spending time.

Overlapping social network data and place network data could unlock new key nodes in city for social mixing

3

This analysis could reveal overlapping connections between online social networks and real-time spatial social networks.

Neighborhood Price Points In our existing tools, we measured economic diversity by looking at people in space. Another approach to understanding the economic diversity of a place could be to measure the economic diversity of surrounding retail offerings. Certain amenity-mapping services such as Yelp track the price-point of different amenities using a standard $$ rating system. Capturing the diversity of amenity price-points around a given public place could act as a proxy for the diversity of economic buying power of people who visit those places. Mapping pricepoints around a place could help identify the right mix of pricepoints to attract a diverse ecology of users

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Design Brief

We could also collect related data about spending patterns such as point-of-sale and credit card transaction data to understand price point of sales, and price ratios compared to area median income.


4

Platforms for Sharing We can think about ways to crowdsource our data collection for the Toolkit, and/or make data visualization more open and compelling for the public This might involve building out our current Public Space / Public Life global database to include a platform for sharing, or comparing diversity data across places and other variables. 023 8

021 4

This tool could build local capacity, and create a set of tools for communities to share data.

Digital platforms for collecting data could help make Public Life Diversity data more accessible

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Process and Design Inspiration for economic mixing

Collecting findings into a playbook for civic leaders

Once we deploy the Toolkit on a city-scale, we can see places with high rates of economic mixing and perform design research on these places. What do they have in common? Are there design cues that correlate to high levels of mixing? We can use findings from this analysis to generate design inspiration for designing processes for cities and advocates to measure what they care about and create a feedback loop between people first metrics and design and investment decisions.

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Appendix

Newspaper readers in San Francisco, from Flickr user Allan King


4


Sharing knowledge and inviting dialogue in the prototyping process To broaden our impact and ask our questions to peers in the field, we used Next City as a platform for dialogue, and organized a Webinar as a means of sharing our findings and deepening dialogue among an informed and engaged audience.

Jeff Risom gives a webinar on the topic Pitting Public Life back into Public Space at SPUR in San Francisco

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Putting Public Life Back into Public Space Webinar By the numbers Registered: 775 Attended: 440 Asked at least one question: 27 In person attendees at SPUR: 45

Urban Design • How can we design public spaces in a larger scale as a network? And not only as separate dynamics in the city? What does connectivity of the public realm require? • How do you see your methodologies changing buildings - can they facilitate an improved exchanged between the exterior public and interior private space?

Webinar questions submitted from online audience, arranged by topic:

• Especially since Gehl studio has european beginnings, this question is relevant: How do you get people to imagine public space alternatives that they are not familiar with.

Institutional Process + Collaborations • Can you share some strategies for working with transit and transportation agencies for reclaiming public spaces?

• Are there any examples of people designing cities to reduce sexual (street) harassment or other forms of violence?

• How do you work in relation to city staff when pulling permits for the pilot studies? Without naming the city, we are finding that the Risk Management department and the Engineers are the hardest members of the groups to work with in terms of allowing some leniency in pulling Rightof-Way permits when testing things like parklets. We tend to have a great reaction from the citizens, but many times hit a wall when working with city staff that have traditionally made decisions based on urban municipal code that has not been updated in years. Do you have any suggestions, as we are trying to make policy change...

• Many of the examples cited are geared toward engaging adults in public spaces. Do you have any examples that would appeal more to children and families? • Much of the work is heavily driven by data and assumes familiarity with precedent. How do you interact with users that don’t generate data

• Is there a strategy your company has used to suggest certain programs or plans to the city that are not an RFP? • Can he talk to the role of BIDs, which manage most new ped plaza spaces in NYC - what they are doing right and how can they improve? • How can bike infrastructure be better integrated to enhance tactical open/public spaces? • Do all these projects and proposals usually come from governments willing to change the city already, or do you sometimes have to try to “convince” city representatives that these changes were positive -and necessary- for the community? • Prior to the testing phase, what are the best ways to convince the business community that a more people focused place is good for business? • What is the role of the library in public placemaking? • What roles do public and/or urban universities have in coordinating, funding or programming initiatives to activate public spaces? Are there examples of universities that have done this (successfully or not)?

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(or won’t) or have completely different social relationships with the precedents? • Following up on your comments regarding public space in NY, Harlem was a place where streets were public- until all activity on the street was criminalized. How do you reconcile innovation social policy and stereotype? How would this work in a place like the grosse point/Detroit border or Trenton? • This all sounds great and I hate to be “debbie downer” but do you have any data or experience with “downsides” - like more people leading to more crime (pickpockets, homeless sleeping...)? and if so has that let to further compensatory iterations that helped? • This feels a lot like PPS’s “Lighter, Cheaper, Quicker”. Are there major differences that you can discuss? • How can these methods be utilized in areas that do not have an existing culture of public space? • Your projects seem to have a definitive aesthetic that you didn’t focus much on, can you talk a little bit about that? Finance • Can you give us 3 or 4 very different types of public space finance? • What do you think will be the affects of the trend toward public private partnerships on the public realm? • What successful sustainable funding models have you seen? What is the role of corporate sponsorship? Census for City Streets Instagram Method / Data • Given the selection biases of Instagram and the inaccuracy of Census data, what other types of data sets would be ideal for baselining life in public space? • Not all studios and firms are able to undertake the intensive process of meeting people where they are. Is there a database of these urban metrics which designers can utilize to strengthen their projects, and can we build on information that is collected? • Are you making any of your research materials (specifically the social media algorithm and GIS maps) available? Could this be a developer’s kit or package for other places? • Is the instagram algorithm proprietary or is it something others could use? Other question • How does technology / media detract / encourage social interaction in public space?

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Public Life Diversity Toolkit Appendix

Professions in attendance • Librarians (x 3) • Developer (x 3) • City Planner (x 3) • Community foundation leader (x 2) • Coordinator of a child and youth friendly city initiative • Nonprofit that works with people of low income to find jobs and start businesses ... not a planner! • Environmental Urban Manager • Economic Development • Public Art Curator • Communication • Citizens


In Public, a Next City article series co-curated by Gehl

Our goal for the series was to better understand how the public realm can bring people together, inspire new directions for design and planning, and engage people. We looked into whether a vibrant public realm connects underrepresented citizens to opportunity, fosters innovation and the spread of ideas, and builds strong, diverse communities. This 6-month article series touched on each of these goals, with a special focus on how public spaces expand opportunity. The column has about 79,300 pageviews in total (as of 4/8/15). Gehl participated in two “tweet-chats” on popular articles. All four of the articles we authored for the series are included here, as well as in the published compendium of In Public: The Public Life Reader. https:// nextcity.org/free-ebook Top articles: What Long-Distance Trains Teach Us About Public Space in America - 9,031 Hacking Public Space With the Designers Who Invented Park(ing) Day - 7,373 How Much Public Space Does a City Need? - 5,220 How Dating Apps Are Changing the Way We Behave in Public - 4,547 We Found Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses’ Love Child 3,779 Top links: LongReads.com planetizen.com usa.streetsblog.org la.curbed.com architectmagazine.com theguardian.com politico.com governing.com

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from

Here’s How American Cities Can Learn From Italian Piazzas By A. Ghigo DiTommaso April 16, 2015 www.nextcity.org/column/in-public

When the paradigm of modernist architecture crumbled, urbanists began a quest for credible alternatives that often took them to the streets and squares of old Italian cities. Deciphering the code of Italy’s thriving public life became a process of redemption from the sterilizing over-rationalization of the urban landscape that had been carried out by professionals of the previous generation. Italy is where Jan Gehl began his monumental research on public space and where many great American scholars conducted a considerable part of theirs, laying the foundation for people-centered urban design. Nevertheless, despite the seminal research of Gehl and other far-sighted scholars, too often the fascination with the architecture of the Italian peninsula inspired superficial or diluted reinterpretations of its stylistic canons. In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, architectural pastiches in Italian sauce proliferated across Europe

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and the U.S., but the spatial values that informed the architecture those projects referred to were almost always lost in translation. Propelled by postmodernist architects like Charles Moore, designer of the infamous Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans, these projects took on the finishings of the classic Italian piazzas with none of the substance. They were placeless places. Now that a growing faction within the urban design community is coalescing around design values that focus on people and not on style, it is time to go back to square one, and reexamine what Italian piazzas have yet to tell us about the public places we aspire to create. I recently found myself considering Italian placemaking while working on a new project Gehl Studio developed in partnership with the Knight Foundation, San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation, and the City of San Jose. Dubbed “Innovation in Public,” the project involved an ethnographic study of the plaza and the development of a design brief to inform future interventions with the aim of helping the space realize its

potential as a “place for people.” San Jose City Hall is less than 10 years old. Designed by California architect Richard Meier in the early 2000s and opened to the public in the fall of 2005, the vision for the $382 million complex included a public plaza that aspired to serve as a new Agora for the Silicon Valley. When confronted with the project’s task, Meier looked once again to Italy. This time the references did not regard decorative aspects but rather architectural typologies. The entire complex is defined by three gestures: a soaring tower hosting all municipal public offices in the tradition of the Italian Palazzo, the sweeping curve of the City Council building that embraces the public space and a rotunda at its very center, both of which strongly evoke archetypes of the Renaissance. However, not even this more substantial invocation of Italian models seems able to conjure the public life such models foster in their original location. A decade after opening, the plaza feels barren and often sits empty or nearly so. Far from realizing its aspirations as a center of urban life, the complex


remains much like a shimmering cathedral in the desert. We are left asking ourselves if looking back to the architectural tradition of the Italian peninsula is of any use at all when we design new public spaces in our cities. Trying to wrap my head around these questions, I found myself walking across the space of the San Jose City Hall while thinking of the city hall square of my hometown, Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. The heart of a prosperous and dynamic metropolitan area of one million people, just like San Jose, Piazza Maggiore is an astonishing realization of everything we cherish about successful public space. It is the hearth of the city’s daily life; a place of constant teeming yet composed activity that sleeps only when the city sleeps. The piazza is the primary destination for all people, regardless of their social strata or race in a now more

multicultural Italian society. It is always the place to go, whether on an ordinary day or on those special occasions in which we congregate to celebrate, or to protest. Having served this role throughout the city’s history, the piazza is also the soul of its collective memory and the most potent symbol of the city itself. So, why are these two spaces performing so differently while trying to do exactly the same thing? An easy answer could ascribe all responsibility to the context in which these two squares find themselves. One could argue that the reason why a place like Piazza Maggiore works so well is the thriving public life of the rest of the city and the Italian habits that make life revolve around public space. While this is certainly an important factor, I believe there is more to it than simply this. I argue that some of the reasons why places like Piazza Maggiore thrive are to be found in the spatial characteristics

that their design entails. Such spatial characteristics can be looked upon, understood, and replicated elsewhere, truly enhancing the quality of new public places, unlike the merely anecdotal reproduction of decorations or out-of-context typologies. The design of the San Jose City Hall Plaza, as many newly designed public spaces across America, overlooks a series of spatial principles that are rarely missing in any of the thousands of piazzas in which you might find yourself enjoying a gelato. Keep Centers at the Center Piazza Maggiore seems to have it clear: The best way to create a thriving center for the city’s public life is by positioning it at the center of the city’s public space. In fact, the location of Italian City Hall piazzas with respect to the surrounding urban fabric is anything

Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore on a sunny winter day

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but arbitrary. With a few exceptions, they are to be found at the heart of the city’s oldest core, persevering in their location and function throughout the tumultuous course of the city’s history. Functioning as nuclei of their city, while everything else around them might change, they remain the same, as if their role was to preserve the “genome of the city’s public life.” As many new city halls across America, San Jose City Hall seems to ignore this rule of thumb: Now at its third location since the incorporation of the municipality only 150 years ago — a few blocks too far from the core of a reflourishing downtown and at the edge of the city’s center — the plaza remains on the sidelines, watching the life of the city pass by from a distance. Connect the Urban Paths If Piazza Maggiore could talk, it would tell you that the life of the city shaped its form and not the other way around. Great piazzas became such by successfully serving as nodes of the pre-existing pedestrian patterns. They are places that offer you the opportunity to change your path and perhaps your mind on what you want to do. They present you with all of the routes you have not yet taken. And, most importantly, they allow you to encounter the people that have taken those different routes. This sense of possibility, as well as the actual direct or indirect interaction with the people that are set off to do things that are different from the ones you are doing, is what provides the place with some of its most relevant values. Largely untouched by the urban paths that define the downtown, San Jose City Hall Plaza can be traversed in only one way, and while such passage is not a true thoroughfare, it is what saves the space from total inactivity after City Hall operating hours. More paths would mean more life.

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Activate the Edges You would think this would be clear to everyone by now: Active and permeable ground floors are a sine qua non for the functioning of an urban plaza. This is what really provides Piazza Maggiore and most Italian Piazzas in general with the fuel and spark of their vibrancy. The monumental scale of the churches and palazzi is broken down to the human scale with the insertion of fine-grained bustling commercial activities. Yet, unfortunately, it seems like not even this rule can be archived in the folder of “lessons learned.” Look at San Jose City Hall Plaza and you will find a trade show of ground floor life-suckers: a vacant lot, a multilevel parking garage, a gas station and the parking lot for a big box retail complex wrap around the space, rendering any intent of the design of the plaza irrelevant. Set the Stage (and the Arena) When these three primary conditions are present, the spectacle of public life is set to unfold, and Piazza Maggiore would tell you that there is nothing more irresistible than that. Even in the least exhibitionist of societies, the activity of a successful urban plaza becomes a theatrical play in which we spontaneously choose to take the role of the actor at times and the role of the spectator at others. Good plaza design subtly defines the space of the stage and the parterre for this ever-changing and always captivating play. Again, nothing is arbitrary in the definition of these elements. Successful open-air theatre relies on a delicate balance; it requires a most favorable microclimate of light, shade, and wind. The space must be framed for the right views and vantage points. It must be carefully arranged with spaces for people to linger, and sometimes places to hide As a public space designer, going

back to square one means to rekindle the memory of that one place that defined my identity as a citizen; to go back to that piazza that offered me a grey and pink stone stage to be, act, and represent life in public, and the white marble steps where I sat to watch my fellow citizens be, act and represent theirs. The public spaces of tomorrow won’t, and shouldn’t, look like the spaces of yesterday but they can share the same power and they can provide the same stage. --Ghigo was trained as an architect in Florence, where he picked up the tools of the trade while engaging directly with the city’s heritage and feeding a strong interest in urban history and theory. In 2012, he relocated to the Bay Area to join Rebar Art & design Studio. He is currently an urban designer at Gehl Studio and a lecturer in landscape architecture and environmental planning at UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design.


from

Hacking Public Space With the Designers Who Invented Park(ing) Day By John Bela February 4, 2015 www.nextcity.org/column/in-public

In the winter of 2005, I, along with a few colleagues from the Bay Area urban design collective Rebar, liberated a parking space for human use. We transformed a single metered spot into a temporary public park and called it Park(ing). My Rebar co-conspirators and I were prepared for the worst. People in crowded San Francisco tend to be touchy about parking. Soon enough we did indeed hear from the city. But instead of the angry summons we expected, we had been invited to meet Marshall Foster, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s director of city greening, at a dark tavern near city hall. “How can we get you to do more of these?” Foster asked. We were floored. Rebar started as a group of artists and urban interventionists. Our position outside the city-making technocracy allowed us the freedom to experiment with our chosen medium –public space – without the risks inherent in public bureaucracy. Now the bureaucracy was asking how to get in on the hack.

We masked our shock and suggested that the Newsom administration make Park(ing) an official city program: The city could create an avenue for businesses and residents to apply for a permit to convert underused street space into an amenity that served the community better. “That’s the last thing we should do,” Marshall responded. “That would absolutely suck the life out of it!” But why did scaling up a good idea have to mean ruining it? There is a fervent debate happening at the moment about tactical urbanism and its relationship to social equity. As a veteran practitioner of tactics, I’m also curious about their potential to catalyze long-term urban transformation and institutional change. In the case of Park(ing), our team at Rebar decided to scale up things on our own. First we created a how-to manual that would result in our twohour urban intervention blossoming into a public participatory art

project called Park(ing) Day, a day-long peaceful takeover of parking spaces in cities all across the world. The global participatory project eventually helped to seed the creation of a parklet program in San Francisco, Pavement to Parks, that allows businesses and neighborhood groups to turn underused street space into small parks where benches and tables, or even a tiny mini-golf course, can be installed. Over the last decade, our own Rebar team has evolved from an informal art collective into a professional art and design practice. Former Rebar partners Blaine Merker and I joined forces with Gehl Architects last year to found Gehl Studio, and Matthew Passmore founded Morelab, Oakland. By far the biggest change within all this has been the pace at which bureaucracies have begun to adopt tactics to catalyze urban change. By now, there are hundreds of Marshall Fosters in cities all across North America asking how to hack public space.

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Park(ing) Day in State College, PA From very early on, Rebar’s most successful projects were those that used tactics with strategic objectives. The Park(ing) Day to Parklet story is one example. Our second urban project, Commonspace, a yearlong exploration of San Francisco’s Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS), is another example of an artist-led urban intervention that catalyzed institutional change. Meanwhile in New York, Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had begun to use guerilla tactics to activate public space. It was an interesting reversal: Guerilla tactics were coming from the top down. Frustrated by political roadblocks preventing the mayor from passing ambitious policies like congestion pricing, SadikKhan and her colleagues at the DOT discovered that framing new initiatives as “pilot” projects enabled

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them to circumvent the typical lengthy environmental review. Empowered by Gehl Architects’ evidence-based design approach, the Public Space Public Life framework, and by a formative trip to Copenhagen, Sadik Kahn and her colleagues used tactics like parklets and painted bike lanes to transform Times Square and Broadway. In a virtuous urbanist circle, San Francisco created its Pavement to Parks program after visits from Sadik-Khan and Gehl in 2008. Yet by 2011, doubts about the model had begun to creep into debate. In San Francisco, SPUR held a panel discussion “The End of Temporary” that positioned non-permanent parks and installations — many of which surfaced during the Great Recession — as tools that had outlived their utility. The questions deserved a response. I call mine “Iterative Placemaking.” Best exemplified in San Francisco by the

Jane Warner Plaza project, and in New York City by the transformation of Times Square and Broadway, Iterative Placemaking consists of a phased series of physical interventions followed by evaluation to shape a place over time. It puts tactics in the context of longer-term change. Project for Public Spaces calls this “Lighter Quicker Cheaper.” Here at Gehl, we call it Measure Test Refine, and now offer a service called Early Activation, which is akin to what the private development community calls it Phase 0. Early Activation can seed culture, commerce, recreation and play on a site or in a neighborhood prior to permanent brick and mortal construction begins. Temporary use — which has always been a part of urban growth and development — now has new currency in the making of cities.


Informed by tactics used in times of resource scarcity, Iterative Placemaking appears to have utility for both public sector and private sector agents of urban change as a tool to guide and focus strategic investments. Iterative Placemaking can generate cultural capital that translates to real estate equity, or political will to realize major urban transformations. It appears that this approach is here to stay. Guerilla bureaucrats within government are increasingly using tactics to circumvent their own organization’s inherent tendency to resist change. But what happens when city bureaucracies and private developers adopt the tactics of guerilla artists. Do they lose their potency and radical potential? Do they actually result in more resilient and just neighborhoods? Can tactical urbanism catalyze institutional change? These questions become critical when asked within a larger dialogue about equity. Part of a bureaucracy’s role is to ensure that public resources are shared equitably across a city. That can get complicated when the bureaucracy is relying on private partners to supply the resources. In San Francisco, we learned this lesson the hard way when parklets began to be associated with gentrification because they were first rolled out in affluent neighborhoods that could afford to make them happen. In the neighborhood where I live in the Mission District, the local neighborhood association has blocked parklets because of concerns about rising real estate values and displacement. In contrast, Philadelphia’s parklet program has implemented their program differently and from the outset sought to introduce the open spaces to neighborhoods with varying demographics and income

levels. There has been far less controversy. Aware of their own limitations, the savvy folks within the City Design Group within San Francisco’s planning department are attempting to use tactics to hack their own technocracy. Inspired by the Park(ing) Day to Parklet story, by the Urban Prototyping Festival, and informed by Gehl’s evidencebased design approach, and the Living Innovation Zone program, The City Design Group has created the Market Street Protoyping Festival; a user generated, tactical urbanist approach to generate novel ideas, and potentially, new permit instruments or operating procedures to transform Market Street, San Francisco’s main commercial spine. The machine is attempting to hack itself by generating citizen-led innovations in order to circumvent its own lethargic bureaucracy. Empowered by the success in NYC, the Gehl Studio offices in NY and SF are utilizing a combination of strategy and tactics in an effort to catalyze transformation of cities worldwide. Having recently completed a set of pilot projects in collaboration with the City Authorities from Sao Paolo, and Mar del Plata in Latin America, to closer to home in San Jose, we will be intently observing the evolution of iterative placemaking in the context of bureaucracies large and small.

--John is an urban designer and landscape architect focused on public space design. As Rebar founder and principal, John has created some of the group’s most groundbreaking and memorable work such as Park(ing) Day, The Panhandle Bandshell, The Civic Center Victory Garden, Parkcycle Swarm, and others. In 2014, he joined Gehl Studio, the US based practice of Gehl Architects, with offices in San Francisco and New York.

As the tactics of guerilla artists become adopted into the operating procedures of city government, this draws a new frontier for further tactical action. Today’s tacticians must push beyond the pop-up and the temporary and seek to hack the DNA of organizational structures themselves.

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Intercept Survey

Version 2

Thank you for participating in this survey about social mixing and public life. Your responses will be kept strictly confidential.

1

1. Do you use Twitter? Y / N 2. Have you ever posted while in this plaza? Y / N 3. Do you use Instagram? Y / N 4. Have you ever posted while in this plaza? Y / N 5. My income is within this range: $0 - 10K

$50 - 75K

$10 - 15K

$75 - 100K

$15 - 25K

$100 - 150K

$25 - 35K

$150 - 200K

$35 - 50K

$200K or more

6. What is the street intersection closest to your home?_______________ and _______________ 7. What is your home zip code? ___________________ 8. Have you talked to new people in this plaza? Yes - friends of friends Yes - stranger I struck up conversation with No No - but sometimes I recognize people I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know 9. If Yes - What brought about your interaction with them?

10. If Yes - have you seen them outside of this plaza?

Pets

Yes

Sports / physical exercise

No

Children

Sometimes

Event / concert / class

Other ______________

Volunteering / religious event Other ______________

www. gehlarchitects.com @citiesforpeople gehlarchitects

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Thank You!


Version 1

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Thank you for participating in this survey about social mixing and public life. Your responses will be kept strictly confidential.â&#x20AC;?

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1. Do you use Twitter? Y / N 2. Have you ever posted while in this plaza? Y / N 3. Do you use Instagram? Y / N 4. Have you ever posted while in this plaza? Y / N a. If you want to share, what is your Twitter username? __________________________ what is your Instagram username? _______________________ 5. My income is within this range: $10,000 to $14,999 $15,000 to $24,999 $25,000 to $34,999 $35,000 to $49,999 $50,000 to $74,999 $75,000 to $99,999 $100,000 to $149,999 $150,000 to $199,999 $200,000 or more 6. What is your home zip code? ___________________ 7. In the plaza, do you recognize people from the neighborhood? Yes, I recognize a few faces, but have not talked to anyone Yes, I have made a few acquaintances Yes, I have made (insert #) ________ new friends that I met because of the plaza No, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t recognize people from the neighborhood

www. gehlarchitects.com @citiesforpeople gehlarchitects

Thank You! Gehl Studio

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Profile for Gehl - Making Cities for People

Public Life Diversity Toolkit  

Many of our cities are divided by economic means, and inequality is a rising topic on the national agenda. Yet, when we go into our squares...

Public Life Diversity Toolkit  

Many of our cities are divided by economic means, and inequality is a rising topic on the national agenda. Yet, when we go into our squares...