Measuring Public Space Engagement

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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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Managing Tables and Chairs in the Public Realm

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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

Expanding the Use of Movable Site Furniture

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“…a wonderful invention – the movable chair…the big asset is moveability. Chairs enlarge choice: to move into the sun, out of it, to make room for groups, move away from them. The possibility of choice is as important as the exercise of it…There declarations of autonomy to one self, and rather satisfying.”

–William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

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The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces opened my eyes years ago to what makes outdoor spaces successful. It felt like the rosetta stone for creating great public space. Like many urban designers, the genius of William Whyte’s insights inspired me to create spaces that imbued these revelations. Choice in particular resonated with me. Choice meant freedom to allow the user to change the public space to adapt to their needs and the situation. Movable tables and chairs were the epitome of this.  Continue reading