Public Life Survey
"In a Society becoming steadily more privatized with private homes, cars, computers, offices and shopping centers, the public component of our lives is disappearing. It is more and more important to make the cities inviting, so we can meet our fellow citizens face to face and experience directly through our senses. Public life in good quality public spaces is an important part of a democratic life and a full life. " - Jan Gehl
What is a Public Life & Public Space Survey?
As cities become the home of over 50% of people, the quality of urban life moves higher on the agenda, both locally and globally. Cities are the platform where urgent matters such as environmental and climate questions, a growing urban population, demographic changes, and social and health challenges must be addressed. Cities compete to attract citizens and investment. That competition should be focused on quality of life, on the experience of living in, working in, and visiting cities.
Public life and public space surveys are a tool use to understand people’s behavior and systematically survey and document public life. The surveys serve to emphasize, document, and catalyze change within the city. Public life studies can serve as a political tool to realize successful change, as they have done in places like New York City and Copenhagen, Denmark.
Essentially, the public life and public space surveys are simple tools and systematic research used to illustrate the complex life of a city. When we get a clearer image of the status of city life, and begin to focus on life and not individual buildings or technicalities, then we can ask more qualified questions about what it is that we want. Then the surveys can become a tool for change. (source: George Ferguson, foreword of How to Study Public Life)
Much of our research and survey work build upon the methodologies developed and refined over 40 years by Jan Gehl. His books Life Between Buildings, Cities for People, and How to Study Public Life inform our practice of public life and public space surveys. We refine our toolbox for each project based on the needs and goals of the individual place and client.
The objective of our surveys is to create a stronger coherence between the life in the city and planned or existing building structures. Public life is at the top of the agenda and great care is needed to accommodate the people using our cities. The surveys look first at people, then at spaces, then at buildings – in that order. The surveys use common sense and all the senses to document physical conditions and patterns of people using space in the city. Together, this information is used to draw conclusions about how physical design of city spaces serves the needs of the people. (source: Gehl Architects) These needs include dimensions of comfort, safety, and ease of mobility for pedestrians. Surveys include counting of pedestrians and cyclists; inventory of stationary activities and behaviors; age and gender surveys; and interviews.
Why Conduct a Public Life Survey?
The simplest answer is that we should count those things that matter most to us, and in cities, people, their behavior as individuals and interactions as groups are the most important thing happening. Indeed, it’s the one of the primary reasons to build cities.
The surveys provide empirical evidence of city life and over time, can show how improvements in public space quality result in an improvement in city life. The findings of surveys can inform strategies to change the public realm, as well as help us understand the impacts of changes. Have our changes to the city increased or decreased the number of people walking, and, the ‘walkability’ of the city? Gathering data on pedestrians at regular intervals provides important tests for how a city performs for the people who use it, giving everyone a good idea of where to focus future efforts. For cities that have never counted people, the first pedestrian counts are the most important, because these counts get the ball rolling and provide a baseline for future comparisons.
By conducting a survey of stationary pedestrians in public areas, you learn when, where, and why people are using public spaces. Understanding this basic information can lead to ideas about how the space can function better to support a lively atmosphere, as well as how to improve the quality of the space. Surveys give municipalities the evidence, tools, and recommendations to begin creating change while the general public gains valuable understanding and interest in public spaces and public life. (source: www.sf-planning.org)