Plaza Life Revisited

Plaza Life Revisited

This research project revisited the primary city of writer William H. Whyte’s Street Life Project and seminal study The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980).  It sought to understand how the types of new public spaces have changed some 40 years after he published his book and companion film, what has changed in how people use public realm spaces, and what makes well used spaces.  The project looked at 10 plazas in Manhattan constructed or renovated in the last 15 years that range from the type of bonus plazas Whyte was observing, to infrastructural leftovers, alleys, transit plazas, private campus spaces, 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 were published in a booklet called 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, Julie Eakin, and Paul Wehby, SWA


Anonymous, Data Scientist
Wade Zimmerman, Photographer
Gerdo Aquino, SWA