Measuring Public Space Engagement


Photo of AGILE Parklet on 5th Avenue , Nashville, TN in front of Frothy Monkey Restaurant Coffeehouse during Park(ing) Day 2015

The AGILE Parklet joined the diverse array of parklets on Park(ing) Day 2015 as they popped up in parking spaces all across the country. While it was set up in the heart of Downtown Nashville adjacent to a local restaurant and coffeehouse, sensors embedded in the parklet’s chairs successfully gathered over six hours of data about the parklet’s use. This automated data collection effort was a continuation of the experimentation The AGILE Landscape Project has been conducting since publishing The Future of Public Space Analytics earlier this year. The post made the case why automated data collection through embedded sensors could provide unique and valuable insight into the use of public space. The AGILE Parklet has been deployed during events and self initiated pop-ups to demonstrate the real world application and potential of this approach. This initial proof-of-concept has focused on collecting information about the number of people sitting in the parklet, the utilization of its capacity, and the length of stay of individual visitors.  These metrics and the ability to efficiently capture them over extended periods of time have shown great promise for developing public space analytics that enable designers and managers to make more informed decisions rather than anecdotal observations and/or assumptions. What follows is an examination of the data collected during Park(ing) Day and and exploration of its application.

Why focus on the seating? Seating is a key component of successful public spaces and the act of sitting represents a relevant and measurable means of quantifying users engagement with a space. In addition, this action can be accurately, and anonymously captured to create long-term longitudinal datasets. By capturing the total number of people sitting in chairs and how long they stay, one can quickly surmise a level of engagement, the capacity of the seating utilized, and turnover of users within the space. This information offers meaningful metrics that provide new insights into the dynamics of a space’s use. A device embedded in each of the AGILE Parklet’s chairs enables them to easily capture this data and transmit it wirelessly to an on-line database for analysis. The captured data is simultaneously plotted in real-time on a companion website.

The current analysis of the collected data and the development of tools to facilitate the application of it has centered around the following three metrics; Total Visits, Utilized Capacity, and Median Length of Stay.

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The Future of Public Space Analytics

public_space_metrics_header_2Public space is an essential component of any great city. It brings people together to socialize, recreate, and work. More pointedly, it attracts people to the city, builds relationships, and spurs innovation and new ideas that fuel a city’s economic growth. How we optimize the investments made in our streetscapes, plazas, parks, and greenways is important to each individual project’s success and the city as a whole. Are the places being built fulfilling their promise? If so, could they be doing more and if not, how do they need to change?

As budgets get tight and the competition for resources within a city’s budget increases, it becomes even more essential to answer these questions. We need to get the most out of our existing public spaces and when designing those in the future we need to make sure we build upon the successes and don’t repeat past mistakes.  Continue reading

Managing Tables and Chairs in the Public Realm

Greeley Square_NYC_movable_tables_chairs

Tables and chairs in NYC

Local coffee shops vying to be the neighborhood’s “third place” understand the importance of providing tables and chairs for their customers. They understand while some people may want to lounge in sofas that per square foot, tables and chairs are a far more useful and appealing option to a wider array of customers. Those wanting to attract more people to visit and linger within public space are faced with the same choices.

Choice is is the keyword. It is one of the most critical components to successful public space. While site furniture options like benches and seat walls are inflexible and less useful than tables and chairs. While they do provide seating, they offer significantly  less options for users when they are the dominant seating choice. Their arrangement represents how the designer anticipated the users needs and how they may use the furniture. There is little if any room for these decision to be easily and cost-effectively changed in the future. Too often this inflexibility, diminishes a place’s potential and misses a large segment of users whose needs are not met.  Continue reading

Enlightened Space: Will LED Lighting Be The Backbone of the Smart City?

Smart City Lighting Network

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) will forever transform the urban landscape as it begins to permeate our cities with a robust distributed network of unique sensors that can actively communicate with one another to deliver information about their surroundings and/or execute specific tasks. The migration of the internet from cyberspace to the real world is intrinsic to the concept of the Smart City. The network can provide streams of data for helping us make more informed decisions about the design and management of public space as well enable environments to be more responsive.

According to BI Intelligence, the amount of devices comprising the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to grow to over 9 billion by in 2018. Some industry leaders have even estimated IoT devices will exceed one trillion by 2022. Either way the growth of these devices is staggering. Designers of the urban environment will soon be faced with the issues of how and if to incorporate and utilize the IoT Smart City infrastructure.

The humble and ubiquitous area light has undergone a considerable transformation itself over the last few years and could be the backbone making this future possible. As LED lighting is quickly becoming the de facto standard for new outdoor illumination and existing luminaires are being replaced with LED fixtures everyday to reduce energy consumption, lighting’s power systems are aligning with those of electronic systems. This commonality and conversion may be the key to accelerating the proliferation of a Smart City sensor network by providing an existing platform for deploying it in the landscape. Imagine every light fixture having the potential to include a multitude of embedded sensors with access to the internet and the ability to communicate with one another and other devices.  Continue reading

The Study of Public Life: Selected Books


Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre’s new book, How to Study Public Life (2013) has a great timeline of books related to public life studies. The following is a selected list of books from the timeline. While some are old favorites, there were a few that were new to me or I had forgotten about.

Documenting Use of Public Space in Real-time

Video Clip from MIT’s Sense and The City Project (2012)  Source: MIT Senseable City Lab

Capturing the movement, location, and activities of pedestrians can be helpful when assessing the effectiveness of public space and facilitate the management of it. William Whyte’s Street Life Project, one of the most influential public life studies, is a great example of the insight that can be achieved when this type of data is gathered and analyzed. It also illustrates the tedious and time consuming nature of the work. This laborious effort is the main reason most design professionals and managers of public spaces rarely have the luxury of conducting comprehensive post occupancy surveys of their work and/or spaces they manage. Too often our understanding of these places is comprised of ad hoc observations and long-term trial and error. As result, existing and future spaces needlessly can suffer from uninformed design decisions.

Pedestrian data is the foundation of public life studies. Various technologies are making is easier to capture this type of data and in many cases in real-time. These include digital video, wireless networks, mobile phone networks, and  infrared cameras. When considering these technologies pedestrian privacy is important. Like in previous public life studies, all data gathered should be anonymized in order to maintain an individual’s privacy. This can be done while maintaining the usefulness of the data captured.

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Why Limit Your Options? : Fixed Seating vs Movable Furniture

The track system demonstrated by the CHAIR>bench project has proven to offer a wide range of configurations. Since its debut, we have been pushing forward to bringing the track system (patent pending) to market. Through the development of the first steel prototype (final product will be in stainless steel), the system has confirmed it is a competitive alternative to high quality fixed site furniture options. Designers will soon have a choice between fixed and securable movable site furniture. Since the track opens up a wide array of possibilities, they will no longer be limited to one arrangement.  Note: We are looking for pilot projects for installing the system. If you have a project where you would like to use it, please contact us.

The following diagrams exhibit these possibilities using a “T” track configuration in comparison to a conventional bench arrangement along a streetscape. In addition, it shows how combining the “T” track can be used to create even more complex combinations within larger spaces. Continue reading