Plaza Life Revisited

Plaza Life Revisited

This research effort focused on New York City, the primary location of urbanist William H. Whyte’s “Street Life Project,” which formed the basis for his seminal book and film The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980).  It seeks to understand how the types of public spaces have changed some 40 years later. What’s changed about how people use the public realm, and what makes for successful spaces?  The project looks at 10 plazas in Manhattan constructed or renovated in the last 15 years, ranging from the type of bonus spaces Whyte was observing to infrastructural leftovers, alleys, transit plazas, private campus areas, and tactical urbanist interventions. The team used new analytical tools such as a machine-learning algorithm to develop heat maps describing dwell time and pedestrian counts from video footage.  The team also used some of the same techniques Whyte did—behavioral observations, site measurements, and hand tabulation to understand context, physical elements, programming, and activity.  Findings and methods will be compiled in a forthcoming publication, A Field Guide to Life in Urban Plazas.


Emily Schlickman and Anya Domlesky, XL research and innovation Lab at SWA
Tom Balsley, Chella Strong, Jen Saura, and Hallie Morrison, SWA/Balsley
Bill Tatham, SWA


Anonymous, Data Scientist
Wade Zimmerman, Photographer