Sample Essay on the Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

In the ‘Street Life Project’ research conducted by William Whyte and his fellow researches, the study was aimed at discovering why some of the urban spaces experienced overcrowding. In order to accomplish the study objective, the researchers based their exercise on observation and interview techniques in order to understand how the choices made by urban planners influenced the appearance and the use of urban spaces. Through the study, the researchers managed to make discoveries that would be useful in the later years in maintaining balance during planning especially where social spaces had to be constricted. The observation process was achieved through mounting of cameras in different locations, beginning with plazas. The aim of the researches while doing this was to determine the choices people made in the use of plazas in order to ascertain whether the use of those urban places was by design or by choice. At the beginning of the study, the researchers realized that some of the uses to which urban spaces were put were mainly based on the choices made by the users themselves. For instance, children preferred to play on the streets not because of lack of playgrounds but because they enjoyed it more.

The combined observation and interview outcomes led to the realization that personal choice not only influenced the use of streets by children but also the distribution of crowding features in the streets. Some plazas for instance, recorded higher overcrowding in comparison to others. In particular, the researchers realized that overcrowding resulted from focus on the crowded spaces rather than on the empty ones. This led to poor planning in some cases as developers directed their projects only towards the more potentially crowded spaces. In terms of use, the researchers discovered that people were most likely to be attracted by others hence more people tended to visit the more sociable places than others. According to the researchers, the cameras helped to view the life of the spaces as opposed to architectural photographs which were devoid of life and therefore misleading to the city planners. The people who used the urban spaces also had a tendency of staying in the mainstream and not moving out of the general pedestrian flow.

When the researchers attempted to determine the factors that may contribute to space usability, it was realized that neither space availability nor aesthetics nor shape contributed to the attraction that people experienced towards a space. On the contrary, people were more likely to be attracted by availability of sitting space such as benches, chairs, steps and ramps among others. Places with such additions hosted more people than other spaces. Other factors such as the sun, wind, trees and water also contribute significantly to usability of city spaces.

From the findings made by Whyte and his fellow researchers, there has been a paradigm shift in the design of urban spaces. Contemporary urban landscapes are therefore more likely to be designed by keeping in mind not only the architectural features such as the shapes, sizes and visual appeal of the spaces but also in consideration of other factors such as the attitudes of the potential users. The application of triangulation in urban design is one of the most essential features of contemporary urban planning that resulted from the research conducted by Whyte and others. In this way, urban planners have been able to keep their constructions attractive while at the same time maintaining a balance between the empty spaces and the heavily used ones.