As part of my thesis project, I wanted to better understand some of the driving principles and precedents behind the planning of public spaces today. I asked around and was directed to the influential urbanist William H. Whyte and his book and video of the same name, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.
As part of his Street Life Project, Whyte studied how ordinary people use the streets and public spaces of New York (more info at PPS.org). He did this for 16 years! While the insights he gained from his research seem so obvious, Whyte was the first one to take the time to uncover them. As a related aside, he was also the man behind the redesign of Bryant Park in the 80s. If it weren't for him, movable chairs might never have taken off in the public spaces of our city.
There is a whole series of YouTube segments from the Street Life Project, each one about 10 minutes long. Hurray for YouTube! While getting away from the computer at lunchtime is always a good thing, coffee break YouTube watching is encouraged. Here's the first one: