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MEASURING

THE SOCIAL
EXPERIENCE OF
URBAN SPACES

JEFF SAUSER
MEASURING THE SOCIAL EXPERIENCE OF URBAN SPACES

Introduction and Methodology 4


Literature Review 6
INTEGRATION
Bill Hillier, The Social Logic of Space, 1984 8
ORGANICNESS
Christopher Alexander, A New Theory of Urban Design, 1987 10
SERIAL VISION
Gordon Cullen, The Concise Townscape, 1961 12
EYES ON THE STREET
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961 14
MEMORABILITY
Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, 1960 16
MAGIC
Allan Jacobs, Great Streets, 1993 18
SITTABILITY
William Whyte, The Social Life of Small Public Spaces, 1980 20
SOFT EDGES
Jan Gehl, Life Between Buildings, 1980 22
MULTIPLICITY
Margaret Crawford, Everyday Urbanism, 1999 24
Case Studies 26
High Museum Piazza 28
Centergy Plaza 32
Woodruff Park 36
Summary 40
Policy Implications 41
Bibliography 47
Image Credits 48
INTRODUCTION AND METHODOLOGY
Contemporary (and historical) urban design lacks an incrementalist
sensitivity that has seen many a socially and culturally troubled but
infrastructurally promising (and known-quantity) district plowed over by
freshly flawed polemical expressions whose problems (rather than qualities)
emerge over lifetimes of decreasingly mysterious failure and increasingly
mounting regret. There is serious need for strategies that can quantitatively
assess and incrementally improve socially inept districts without preemptive
architectural decimation. This paper will extract from 50 years of literature
a set of concrete urban qualities that are discursively proven and practically
measurable to provide the profession a method for piecemeal urban
improvement. After applying the set of measures to three case studies, it should
become clear that many issues of urban social decline could be assuaged with
modest architectural interventions rather than all-out urban renewal.

PROBLEM: NEED INCREMENTAL STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE URBAN


SOCIAL INTERACTIVITY

Quality urban spaces and districts foster social interaction that generates and
sustains meaningful community. The most such successful urbanities emerge
over long periods of time, experiencing series of revision and improvement
that refine them into rich environments replete with social activity and,
thus, healthy communities. It seems, therefore, that if a place lacks or loses
infrastructure to accommodate community-building socialization, it should
be injected or replaced in bits and pieces as the present inhabitants and users
can absorb and inhabit it. Unfortunately, many new urban design projects
neglect the notion of incremental development in their vision for the future.
Instead of simply medicated, the troubled past is erased – along with all of its
potential and uniqueness – and replaced with something untried, untrue, and
likely to fail or at least severely stumble for lack of historical authenticity and
local conditioning.

EXTRACT DESIGN STRATEGIES FROM THE LITERATURE



Over the past 50 years, numerous scholars and visionaries have put forth strong
arguments for incremental development and an appreciation for accumulated
complexity. In many cases, these authors pen entire methodologies not short
of manifestos that, in great detail, proffer design approaches to improve
the social character and capacity of urban places. Other, less architecturally
prescriptive authors supply perspectives that can easily be translated into
specific design strategies. This paper shall extract one key tool from each
author’s magnum opus to assemble a kit of critically seasoned incrementalist
approaches to measuring and improving the socially interactive and, thus,
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community building capacity of urban spaces.

CONVERT DESIGN STRATEGIES INTO TESTABLE METRICS AND


IMPLEMENTABLE TOOLS

To make them useful in practice, the rhetorical design strategies and
approaches gleaned from the literature review must be converted into
measurable quantities, specific observable conditions, and/or concretely
implementable tools. Each author’s contribution shall be thusly translated
into something that can be directly measured in exiting urban environments
and/or inserted therein to improve spaces’ capacity for and quality of social
interactivity and subsequent community formation and maintenance.

APPLY METRICS TO CASE STUDIES



Three local case studies will demonstrate the metrics applicability to a variety
of actual urban places. Having applied all metrics to each, the cases importantly
become comparable in terms of their capacity to foster social connectivity in
the public urban realm. Sites include the piazza in front of the High Museum in
midtown, the Centergy Plaza at Tech Square, and the northernmost portion of
Woodruff Park downtown. Though each site involves a unique set of specific
conditions and concerns, all are of comparable size and urban centrality (they
are all on or very near Peachtree Street, Atlanta’s flagship thoroughfare).

CONCLUSIONS AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS



Executing the case studies will reveal how the sites’ physical characteristics
affect its social and experiential performance. This exercise could inform policy
promoting similar study of new urban developments and redevelopments
during their design or redesign process to ensure designers account for their
projects’ social and experiential dimensions in addition to strictly physical
and formal concerns.

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LITERATURE REVIEW
Decades of scholarly urban design research have yielded a number
of important treatises full of insights that can directly inform actual
urban design work. This literature review shall engage nine of the
most prominent works, parsing from their rich texts one key metric or
strategy to be measured and/or documented in the case studies. While
all of these authors potentially provide many such ideas, this paper
will attempt to distill but one readily measurable concept from each
– perhaps future work could engage additional metrics from these
authors as well as soliciting metrics from others.

The metrics are not consistent in scale or objectivity: some apply more
to the urban scale, some to the architectural, some to the personal or
bodily; some are highly quantifiable, some are directly documentable,
and some but subjectively conveyable. The authors are organized in
this literature review according to these traits, first by scale (urban,
architectural, and then personal) and then, within each scale group, by
objectivity (most objective to most subjective).

INTEGRATION ORGANICNESS SERIAL VISION


URBAN

Bill Hillier Christopher Alexander Gordon Cullen


The Social Logic of Space The Social Logic of Space The Concise Townscape
1984 1987 1971
ARCHITECTURAL

EYES ON THE STREET MEMORABILITY MAGIC


Jane Jacobs Kevin Lynch Allan Jacobs
The Death and Life of Great The Image of the City Great Streets
American Cities, 1961 1960 1993
PERSONAL

SITTABILITY SOFT EDGES MULTIPLICITY


William Whyte Jan Gehl Margaret Crawford
The Social Life of Small Public Life Between Buildings Everyday Urbanism
Spaces, 1980 1980 1999

OBJECTIVE SUBJECTIVE
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At the urban scale, Bill Hillier provides an entirely quantifiable measure
of integration to explain a site’s position and level of connection (both
infrastructural and symbolic) within the overall urban network.
Christopher Alexander informs a simple survey of surrounding
structures’ vintage to help enrich the perception of historical context.
Gordon Cullen offers a way to document the visual and spatial
experience of approaching and moving through an urban space to help
choreograph a dramatic procession.

At the architectural scale, Jane Jacobs indicates a need to gauge a site’s


internal visibility spectrum to make sure users feel safely observable
from more angles and less likely to feel vulnerably screened or isolated.
Kevin Lynch explains the importance of memorable structures or
formations that help viscerally position a place within an urban
network of landmarks. Allan Jacobs seeks the presence of magic about
a site, a highly subjective feature that cannot be measured but should
be considered and possibly embedded in a project.

At the personal scale, William Whyte suggests a practical census of


seats and seating types within a site to make sure there are enough
sitting opportunities of sufficient variety for passers through. Jan
Gehl calls for roughly countable layers along sites’ edges that contain
interactive people and provide shades of transparency and social
interest. Margaret Crawford advocates the accommodation of various,
unforeseen uses and spontaneous activities to ensure a place engenders
diverse socialization and supports democratic freedom.

The proceeding pages elaborate on these authors’ insights and


elucidate how their work translates into variably measurable metrics
to be exercised in the case studies that follow.

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INTEGRATION
Bill Hillier, The Social Logic of Space, 1984

Societal organization and urban spatial organization are inextricably


linked according to Bill Hillier, who writes, “Society must be described in terms
of its intrinsic spatiality; space must be described in terms of its intrinsic
sociality.” Less consequences of technology or environmental context, cities
are consequences of their society’s social structure and, in return, a society’s
social structure is preserved and propagated through its spatial organization.
In short, social structure is embedded in architectural and urban structure.
Hillier believes that we can understand a society’s culture simply
by examining the way they order their built environment. And, likewise,
understanding a society’s culture helps clarify its architecture and urbanity.
Beyond that, we can compare social and cultural formations from different
societies by comparing the way they order space: “spatial order is one of
the most striking means by which we recognize the existence of the cultural
differences between one social formation and another, that is, differences in
the ways in which members of those societies live out and reproduce their
social existence.” He suggests that architectural and urban organization (not
style but order) might be one of a culture’s most powerful self-expressions.
One way to transfer this insight into the study of contemporary urban
design involves Hillier’s concept of “integration.” He describes the emergence
of main thoroughfares in unplanned cities as an accumulation of social
importance along a certain path. As more urbanites use the path and build
on it, it gains cultural and social significance. As it gains such significance, it
becomes more embedded within the overall urban structure than other, less
significant paths. It is no coincidence that Peachtree Street is simultaneously
Atlanta’s most important and most connective (aka integrated) street: as
it accrued cultural significance it was physical grafted onto with a higher
intensity than other, less significant streets in town, thereby becoming more
integrated than most other streets around it.
Much of Hillier’s work has surrounded quantifying aspects of
integration so different cities can be compared in similar terms (thereby
comparing social and cultural formations via spatially organizing constructs).
In this case, integration will be measured using a GIS application. The more
integrated streets should be considered more important culturally and
socially, suggesting that structures and activities located along and near them
are of high cultural and social significance. By the nature of its measurement,
integration also implies accessibility and connectivity. Areas of high integration
are highly accessible and highly connected to other parts of the city. In turn,
places of exceedingly low integration could be considered of exceedingly low
social and cultural import.

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ORGANICNESS
Christopher Alexander, A New Theory of Urban Design, 1987

Part of a city’s social richness involves how it physically develops.


Christopher Alexander calls a city’s perceivable development process its
“organicness,” or its “specific structural quality.” Places of high organicness
“grow as a whole, under their own laws of wholeness, not only at the largest
scale, but in every detail.” Places of low organicness are built in big chunks
according to discontinuous rules that logically distinguish them and prevent
an incorporating “wholeness”.
True wholeness pervades at all scales, ordering plats, streets, facades,
and details into a coherent gestalt. Built constituents deeply correlate across
the landscape and through history, older pieces relating to new pieces through
a shared embracement of the particular orders of wholeness which bind
the city into an environment that makes sense on all levels. Like a written
language, the orders of wholeness provide a common structural framework
that accommodates substantial diversity so all pieces can be personally
expressive but limits difference to the bounds of linguistic comprehension so
no piece destabilizes the system.
“The task of creating wholeness can only be dealt with as a process.”
As new urban pieces emerge, they must correspond to the existing orders
of wholeness to avoid corrupting it. They must also contribute a new and
enriching expression of the wholeness to avoid diluting it. Quality “new
growth emerges from the specific, peculiar structural nature of its past.” It
works with existing structural conditions and adds new but historically
coherent complexity. “
“The condition of wholeness is always produced by the same, well-
defined process, which works incrementally.” A place that develops in small
pieces over time is more likely to support a structural relationship between
those pieces. Each emerges in the context of its predecessors and so is more
inclined to adhere to their existent ordering principles. A place that develops
in larger pieces over shorter periods of time, on the other hand, is less likely
to exhibit orders of wholeness because it has steeped less in the existent
conditions and overwhelms them in scale anyway, rendering them moot.
Alexander suggests there is a strong correlation between intensity
of wholeness and historical development incrementality. Thus, assessing a
place’s degree of wholeness is as simple as measuring how incrementally it has
developed. The more piecemeal the place has emerged, the more wholeness
likely pervades.

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SERIAL VISION
Gordon Cullen, The Concise Townscape, 1961

Spatially, a city could be considered an environment of distinct,


serially traversable spaces. Emotionally, on the other hand, the city’s spaces
are viscerally strung together by a traveler’s specific experience of them
as they unfold before and around him/her. The city becomes a continuous
chain of dramatic moments leading from one view to the next. Each new view
upon rounded bend elicits another emotional event that thickens the plot
established by the previous tableaus provided by the city and experienced by
the traveler. Gordon Cullen calls this “drama,” an enlivening gestalt that makes
the city both interesting and enriching.
For the drama to fully develop, the city’s procession of spaces needs
to be both diverse and related. A steady diversity between spaces ensures
a dynamic experience with more surprises to heighten emotional feedback.
Perceivable relationship amongst spaces binds the series of emotional
moments into a manifold experience far richer than if they were simply
isolated incidents with no interactive bearing. “There is an art of relationship
just as there is an art of architecture. Its purpose is to take all the elements
that go to create the environment: buildings, trees, nature, water, traffic,
advertisements, and so on, and to weave them together in such a way that
drama is released. For a city is a dramatic event in the environment.”
A city’s dramatic potential can be equated with its potential to attract
more players to its stage. The more emotionally visceral a city’s traversal
experience, the more people will indulge the drama. Individual spaces and
structures seeking users should engage with and relate to the overarching
plotline and contribute special “dramatic events” of their own to enhance not
only their own but the city’s overall experience. Combining a view-based series
of dramatic events with the social interactivity of added people compounds
the city’s capacity to engage its users and cause them to engage each other.
Cullen’s tool to measure a city’s dramatic effect involves measuring
a traveler’s “serial vision” as he/she passes through it. “Although from a
scientific or commercial point of view the town may be a unity, from our
optical viewpoint, we have split it into two elements: the existing view and
the emerging view. In the normal way this is an accidental chain of events and
whatever significance may arise out of the linking of views will be fortuitous.
Suppose, however, that we take over this linking as a branch of the art of
relationship; then we are finding a tool with which human imagination can
begin to mold the city into a coherent drama. The process of manipulation has
begun to turn the blind facts into a taut emotional situation.”
Documenting the city’s scenes becomes storyboarding its drama.
Images are made at the threshold of each new view, enabling an assessment of
individual dramatic potential. Chronologically juxtaposing the images enables
an assessment of the overall experience’s dramatic coherence.
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“Serial vision: to walk from one end of the plan to another, at a uniform pace, will provide a sequence of
revelations which are suggested in the serial drawings, reading from left to right. Each arrow on the plan
represents a drawing. The even progress of travel is illuminated by a series of sudden contrasts and so an
impact is made on the eye, bringing the plan to life.”

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EYES ON THE STREET
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

Good city streets support a heterogeneous population of locals and


strangers, lingerers and passersby, old hats and new arrivals. There are
certain morphological characteristics necessary to accommodate that much
sociological diversity without engendering disorder. Jane Jacobs suggests
these include a clearly defined public domain (as obviously distinct from a
clearly defined private domain), “eyes upon the street” to surveil goings on,
and enough passersby and other street users to keep things safely active (as
opposed to forebodingly lonely).
“Eyes upon the street” is perhaps the most famous (and architecturally
measurable) of these related concerns. Public urban spaces should promote
and support natural surveillance by avoiding visual obfuscations and
hiding articulations that create blind spots pedestrians might fear passing.
Additionally, Jacobs calls for the buildings to orient themselves towards the
street so their occupants are architecturally compelled to observe the outdoors
and thereby keep an eye on what’s happening: “There must be eyes upon the
street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the
street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure
the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They
cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.”
Ultimately, the issue doesn’t stop at safety. A comprehensively visible
public space potentiates a comprehensively utilized public space (as William
Whyte writes, people don’t go places they don’t know are there). If the space
can be entirely ascertained and evaluated from its edges, it stands a better
chance of honest, earnest use (as opposed to a space of ambiguous extents
which might be avoided altogether for fear of its hidden mysteries). The more
hidden corners and enshrouded edges, the more effort one must expend to
simply fathom the space before s/he can even decide if s/he wants to stay.
More often than not, when faced with such a task, the passerby passes by.
By this measure, the better urban space provides more universal
visibility from more vantages within and along its boundaries. The space
syntax team originating at University College London provides a powerful
tool to evaluate this “eyes on the street” capacity. Depthmap, their flagship
utility, calculates isovists (the area of viewable territory from a given point
in a built environment) across a grid cast throughout the space and then
graphically indicates which regions of the space provide more view (or larger
isovists) relative to all others. Areas thusly coded red are directly visible from
more positions across the whole space; areas coded blue are largely invisible
from other vantages across the space. A space is said to have high “eyes on the
street capacity” if it sports few darkly colored, less visible regions and is more
uniformly brightly colored and highly visible.

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MEMORABILITY
Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, 1960

To promote navigability and socio-cultural connectivity, a city needs to


be visually and structurally legible. Kevin Lynch provides five categories (path,
node, edge, district, landmark) into which most urban elements can be sorted to
measure a city’s memorability (visually based) and intelligibility (structurally
based), two metrics which combine to determine its overall legibility.
Paths, nodes, and districts are spatial urban components that primarily
operate in a part-to-whole relationship with each other and the overall structure
of the city. Paths describe routes and thoroughfares that connect important
parts of the city. Nodes are typically either important path intersections or other
significant urban centralities. Districts are urban zones that effectively cohere
behind a common character of some sort be it visual (such as distinguishable
from the rest of the city by a common architectural style) or structural (such as
a swatch of uniform grid within a more haphazard overall city plat). Importantly
for this study, these three categories might help locate sites within a city but they
are rarely malleable from an isolated site. Because they operate in networked
concert, the only way to significantly adjust them is to manipulate the whole
system at a macro scale well beyond the range of a typical, bounded project site
(or study area).
Edges and landmarks, on the other hand, can be contained within a
single site and still openly participate in the city’s broader concert of edges
and landmarks. Edges demarcate boundaries between two things or places
or at least two types of things or types of places. Landmarks are memorable
articulations in the urban fabric that episodically contribute to an individual’s
mental conception of the city.
While the designer cannot, without macro influence, establish or
substantially adjust a path (because they run well before and beyond a site’s
extents), node (because being a node is contingent on occupying a significant
location relative to a broader network), or district (because districts tend
to define themselves as collections of related sites – unless they are single,
uncommonly huge sites), he or she can attempt to create a landmark or edge
that memorably defines his or her site.
The degree to which a site achieves landmark (memorable in and of
itself) or edge (memorable as the articulated introduction to, conclusion of, or
otherwise boundary to something coherently notable [the site’s own boundary
about itself could achieve edge status by this definition]) could be called its
“memorability.” The more the place (or element[s] within or about it) stick in
the memory, the more prominently it can elevate in relation to the city’s other
landmarks (most directly) and edges (less directly). Measurable components of
memorability include contextual distinctiveness (how much does it stand out
from or define its surroundings?) and visual or experiential exceptionality (how
remarkable does it look or feel?).
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PLACEHOLDER IMAGE

PLACEHOLDER IMAGE
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MAGIC
Allan Jacobs, Great Streets, 1993

Previous eras in urban design history saw preponderances of heavy-


handed approaches to the production of quality public urban spaces. Tabla
rasa strategies dominated the city beautiful movement to a moderate extent
and the modernist movement to the extreme. Put perhaps over-simply, design-
ers thought the best way to improve a place was to gut it or wipe it clean alto-
gether and then start over from scratch. Allan Jacobs retrospectively protests:
“better models than these were in order: ones not so dependent on central
power and ownership and design, ones that saw incremental physical change
and conservation as more desirable than massive clearance of what existed,
ones that were based on not only an acceptance but also a desire for and love
of urban life, of encountering people in healthy environments.” He stresses a
need to stoke desire for urban life that can only be achieved by preserving, in-
crementing, and layering within the city, not bulldozing and rebuilding on top
of it. Christopher Alexander has already provided a measure for incremental
development and the conservation of physical history so Jacobs shall contrib-
ute a more difficult but arguably more important measure: the magnitude of
“magic” in an urban space.
Though Jacobs speaks in terms of streets, his rhetoric seems to gener-
ally accommodate other types of public urban spaces too. He contends that a
great street (or public urban space) does more than just comfortably trans-
mit passers-through, it elicits a magically transcendent experience. “There is
magic on great streets, and presumably in their making. It is more than put-
ting all of the required qualities on a street, and it is more than having a few
or many of the physical, desirable things that contribute to them. Sorcery and
charm, imagination and inspiration are involved, and may be the most crucial
ingredients.”
He goes on to discuss great urban spaces’ impact on a social public:
“beyond functional purposes of permitting people to get from one place to an-
other and to gain access to property, streets – most assuredly the best streets
– can and should help to do other things: bring people together, help build
community, cause people to act and interact, to achieve together what they
might not alone.” Not only can the space cause one to transcend his or her
personal banalities, it seems capable of transporting the collective citizenry
into a mood of communal brotherhood.
However ultimately utopian Jacobs’ notion may sometimes seem, his
core idea is readily transferrable: through their incrementally layered com-
plexity, good places elevate people on both personal and social levels, an effect
he calls “magic”. A highly subjective metric, it might be practically defined as
what experientially and/or socially emerges from a great space in addition to
comfort. If transcendence accompanies utility, the space is more than simply
well-designed: it is magical. To whatever extent possible, transcendental cues
and triggers shall be documented and speculatively analyzed.
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SITTABILITY
William Whyte, The Social Life of Small Public Spaces, 1980

To foster social interactivity, an urban space needs the physical


infrastructure necessary to accommodate actors in the first place. Put simply:
an urban space cannot become sociable if it doesn’t have the facilities about
which to socialize – people won’t sit and talk to each other if there’s nowhere to
sit! Informed by a career of first-hand observation and measurement, William
Whyte developed strategies for evaluating and improving such interactivity-
enabling infrastructure.
There are three phases to Whyte’s process: assess the visibility,
accessibility, and variety of sitting places; measure the dimensional suitability
of each seat; and observe the seating ensemble’s actual usage to determine
overall interactivity-fostering success.
It is most immediately important that sitting places be visible to
passersby. As Whyte writes, “if people do not see a space, they will not use
it.” Obviously, the seats must not only be in view but also in reach of potential
sitters: less accessible facilities find themselves less used. Accessibility also
involves the percieved (and actual) publicness of the sitting place - the more
private a surface seems (or is), the less welcoming it effectively becomes.
Finally, seat types need to vary across the site to provide for the public’s
varied wants and needs. Variables include size (big enough for one person,
two people, bigger group), climate (sun/shade, windy/calm), aesthetics
(shape, style, material), functionality (static, movable/adjustable) and public
exposure (along thoroughfare, tucked out of the way).
Whyte offers a few dimensional and mathematical rules of thumb to
assess sittability amongst seats. People tend to avoid seats shorter than one
foot or taller than three. Double-sided seats should be a full “two backsides
deep” to ensure both sides are simultaneously usable. There should be about
one linear foot of sitting space per thirty square feet of plaza area.
In addition to compiling the above quantifications, the space should be
observed to ascertain exactly how the public actually uses its seats. Because
each space is unique, generalized rules of thumb alone cannot fully predict
particular sittability and associated interactivity – locally specific factors also
hold a strong hand.
In sum, assessing a place’s sittability involves, first, urbanistically
characterizing and dimensionally inventorying available seats and, second,
observing and documenting how people use the seats and how the seats
facilitate social interactivity.
Quantifiably, seat plenitude ensures everyone who wants to sit and
socialize can; seat-type heterogeneity supports more diverse breeds of seated
socialization.

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SOFT EDGES
Jan Gehl, Life Between Buildings, 1980

Ultimately, urban design is more about the dynamic activities occurring


within the public realm that it is about the built quality of the space (buildings,
physical amenities, etc.). “Inevitably,” writes Jan Gehl, “life between buildings
is richer, more stimulating, and more rewarding than any combination of
architectural ideas.” That is not to say architecture cannot contribute to the
experiential, cultural, and social value of an urban environment – merely that
quality urban life trumps quality urban infrastructure amongst a sensitive
designer’s priorities. Of course, there is a relationship between good design
and good urban life – in America, this is most commonly demonstrated
negatively, such as when bad design engenders bad urbanism (by squandering
the potential for good urban life).
To ensure an urban space retains the capacity for quality urbanism,
Gehl would have the designer take steps to avoid precluding it. His concept of
“soft edges” involves providing certain architectural layers and complexities
that enable certain types of activities, leading to a desirably active and rich
urban environment and society. Specifically, he stresses designing to promote
stationary activities that are more prolonged and entrench people deeper into
the urban setting (in contrast to coming and going activities, which are more
frequent but fleeting in duration). “Of course it is important that conditions
for walking to and from buildings are good and comfortable, but for the scope
and character of life between buildings, the conditions offered for long-lasting
outdoor activities play the decisive role.”
“Soft edges” are what really foster public-realm occupation and
interaction. These are spaces that flank and/or permeate buildings where
people can settle, work, eat, and otherwise sit and meld into the urban place.
Ideally, Gehl writes, soft edges “link indoors and outdoors – functionally and
psychologically.” He demonstrates this connection with dense, single-story,
single-family housing examples (namely by a lucid sociological link between
the shrouded innards of the house, the semi-public porch and yard, and the
entirely public street) but contends the concept holds true across urban
topologies: “everywhere people walk to and from city functions, or where
the functions stay outdoors, the establishment of good connections between
indoors and outdoors combined with good resting places in front of the
buildings must be a matter of course.”
Extant soft edges shall be documented and then evaluated according
to their frequency (hard edge to soft edge ratio), depth (degree to which inside
and outside connect/merge), vitality (observed activation), and flexibility
(range of stationary activities and their relationship to adjacent/integrated
coming-and-going activities).

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MULTIPLICITY
Margaret Crawford, Everyday Urbanism, 1999

From a designer’s standpoint, the urban environment’s physical and


spatial elements might be discretely and singularly classifiable: each individ-
ual element has a sole purpose and a sole use. Observing things in reality over
time, however, one quickly understands Margaret Crawford’s contention that
most urban spaces exhibit “multiplicity of simultaneous public activities […]
that are continually redefining both ‘public’ and ‘space’ through lived experi-
ence. Indeed, the true nature of a space is defined by the people that inhabit
it and the activities they incite. Once the urban element leaves the drawing
board and enters the public realm, its relationship to the people of that real
realm constantly changes and contradicts.
She nicely describes the phenomenon: “these spaces exist physical-
ly somewhere in the junctures between private, commercial, and domestic.
Ambiguous and unstable, they blur our established understandings of these
categories in often-paradoxical ways. They contain multiple and constantly
shifting meanings rather than clarity of function. In the absence of a distinct
identity of their own, these spaces can be shaped and redefined by the transi-
tory activities they accommodate. Unrestricted by the dictates of built form,
they become venues for the expression of new meanings through the individ-
uals and groups who appropriate the spaces for their own purposes. Appar-
ently empty of meaning, they acquire constantly changing meanings – social,
aesthetic, political, economic – as users reorganize and reinterpret them.” Not
only does use and activity change in a space overtime, the very meaning of the
space shifts and multiplies as more people interpret it, inhabit it, and popu-
late it according to their personal perceptions and understandings of them-
selves, their relationship to the space, and the space’s relationship to the rest
of the city.
Many of Crawford’s examples of multiplicity involve informal com-
merce, such as when street vendors and yard sale proprietors set up shop in
spaces not designed for or anticipating such activity. Multiplicity can describe
a far broader set of phenomena incited by actors as varied as skateboarders,
homeless people, joggers, performers, protesters, animals, and so on seem-
ingly ad infinitum.
This study shall, through observation and speculation, subjectively in-
terpret a given space’s potential for multiplicity. The evaluation will consider
the following questions: how heterogeneous is the built environment? How
well does or might it support activities it wasn’t specifically designed for?
How heterogeneous is the user population? How drastically does the popula-
tion compositionally shift throughout the day, week, or year? How public is
the space (as opposed to controlled and/or private)? Is spontaneity or devia-
tion from the norm (if there is a prescribed or officially programmed norm)
encouraged, tolerated, or condemned? Ultimately, spaces that support multi-
plicity are likely socially healthier than spaces that inhibit.
24
PLACEHOLDER IMAGE

PLACEHOLDER IMAGE
25
CASE STUDIES
The literature review having digested the nine authors and translated their
work into singular concepts, three case studies will now test the resultant
metrics’ measurability and applicability to the design and evaluation of
existing urban sites.

The three sites are similar in many ways to maintain comparability but
different in enough ways to ensure different results for each. All three are
smaller than a block and immediately bordered on at least one side by building
facades. Located within a few blocks of Peachtree Street, they are all centrally
and importantly located with the potential heavy usage. The High Museum
plaza is unique in that it does not directly front a street and its surrounding
institutions largely determine its activity. Centergy Plaza exists at the mixed-
use threshold between Georgia Tech and the rest of the city but does not itself
contain any particularly important civic or cultural institutions or landmarks.
Woodruff Park sits in the city’s physical and symbolic heart, surrounded by
the region’s most significant skyscrapers and filled with representatives from
its top and bottom socioeconomic classes.

INTEGRATION ORGANICNESS SERIAL VISION


Metric reach Average age Qualitative Assessment
Directional reach Age Range

EYES ON THE STREET MEMORABILITY MAGIC


Visibility Key feature Qualitative Assessment

SITTABILITY SOFT EDGES MULTIPLICITY


Area per seat Depth Qualitative Assessment
# Seat types

26
Like the literature review, the case studies’ metrics are organized by scale
(urban to personal) on the first order and objectivity (most to least) on the
second.

At the urban scale, integration is quantified by space syntax GIS software (red
lines indicate the most integrated streets and street segments, dark blue lines
are the least). Measuring organicness involves mapping the sites’ neighboring
buildings and coloring them according to their age (light grays indicate
younger buildings, darker grays indicate older). Serial vision is represented
by a series of views from a path mapped on the site plan.

At the architectural scale, eyes on the street is quantified by space syntax


Depthmap software (areas of red are visible from the most points on the plan,
areas of blue are visible from the least [relatively]). Memorability involves
representing the site’s most distinctive and place-orienting feature. Magic is
represented by photo details supporting a subjective account.

At the personal scale, sittability is quantified by counting the seats and


calculating how many square feet the site contains per seat provided. Soft
edges involves roughly counting the occupiable layers between street or plaza
and building interior (or wall face). Multiplicity involves reporting observed
or speculated spontaneity and documenting the spatial features that enabled
and/or accommodated it.

The following case studies demonstrate how these metrics might be measured
and/or observed. This paper’s subsequent and final section considers how
this work might inform policy.

27
CASE STUDY 1
HIGH MUSEUM PIAZZA

Located within the northern half of the


city’s midtown neighorhood, the site is
well served by transit, a few blocks east
of I-75/85, adjacent to Peachtree Street
(the city’s flagship thorougfare), and
surrounded by highrise office buildings
and condos. Part of a recent addition to the
Woodruff Arts complex, the plaza in front of
the High Museum of Art’s newest annex sits
in the middle of Atlanta’s premier cultural
campus. In addition to the museum, the complex includes symphony hall, a
theater, an art college, a bar, and an outdoor cafe. The plaza is most populated
when new exhibits open at the museum, but people also pass through and
congregate in conjunction with visits to the other adjacent institutions. Often
dressed to advertise or celebrate current exhibitions, the plaza sometimes
supports banners, sculptures, or performers in and about its bounds.

INTEGRATION ORGANICNESS SERIAL VISION


Metric reach = 33.8 Average age = 21 Spatially dynamic
Directional reach = 2.25 Age Range = 34

EYES ON THE STREET MEMORABILITY MAGIC


Avg/max visibility = 75% Public art installation(s) Transparency

SITTABILITY SOFT EDGES MULTIPLICITY


Area per seat = 442 ft2 Average edge = 2 layers Scant
Seat types = 2

28
URBAN 1
INTEGRATION: The plaza resides in a dense urban district of high integration (relative to the
rest of the city). The 1-mile metric reach of its bounding streets (left) is very high (33.8 miles)
but, like much of the city, directional reach (right) is low (2.25). Note: this plaza is blocked from
street view by museum buildings, potentially imparing actual integration values.

ORGANICNESS: Though surrounded by a single institution (or family of institutions), the plaza
enjoys moderate organicness by virtue of the institutions’ relatively longstanding history in
this place. Over the years, buildings, often of architectural notoriety, have been added to the
campus in an increasingly varied assembly of structures and styles.

A. Symphony Hall, 1968


B. High Museum, 1983
C. High Addition, 2002
D. Table 1280, 2002

Average building age = 21 years


Building age range = 34 years

SERIAL VISION: Especially when entering via the narrow, ivy-lined stair corridor, this plaza’s
serial experience is very spatially dynamic. The stair’s space is constricted but ends facing the
glassy cafe and opens into the exposed plaza. From there, the space extends across grass, along
the Meier wing’s blocky facade, and past diverse sculptures, terminating at Peachtree Street.

29
ARCHITECTURAL 1
EYES ON THE STREET: Though hardly visible from the street (especially because of intervening
topography not captured by the map on the right), once inside the plaza itself, visibility levels are
moderately high. With the exception of some corners and corridors, the plaza is geometrically
quite rectilinear and without significant blind spots.

Visibility range = 23 - 563


Average visibility = 425
Avg/Max = 75%

MEMORABILITY: The architecture surrounding the plaza is monochromatic and formally


subdued, giving memorable attention over to the artworks displayed on the grounds within.
This Lichenstein house a permanent installation and probably most vividly characterizes the
space. Occassionally the plaza contains other works that temporarily distinguish its experience.

MAGIC: The plaza’s most poignant sense of magic comes from the new museum’s almost totally
transparent first floor along the plaza’s west and north edges. The effect is masked by reflective
glare from the plaza’s center, creating a feeling of containment. But approaching the facade reveals
uncannily clear views across the museum floor and to the city beyond, juxtaposing art and skyline.

30
PERSONAL 1
SITTABILITY: All seats in the plaza are chairs around tables (4 chairs around each table).
The cafe tables are set with silverware and roped off from the rest of the plaza - they are for
restaurant patrons only. The plaza tables are grouped under trees but can be rearranged more
freely. The plaza’s adjacent lawn provides the only other potential sitting option.

88 total seats
38,900 ft2
442 ft2/seat
2 seat types
13 cafe tables 9 plaza tables
4 chairs/table 4 chairs/table
52 seats 36 seats

SOFT EDGES: If not for its generously glazed groundfloor walls and externally visible internal
exhibits (plus the western view through the building to the city beyond), the plaza’s edges
would be quite hard. The only other softening elements include seating areas, entry queues,
and spare, covered walkways.

Cafe seating
Covered walkway Queue
Walkway Storefront
Storefront Entry
Storefront 1 layer
2 layers 2 layers
3 layers

MULTIPLICITY: School groups appropriate an otherwise relatively unused lawn; the plaza
often hosts temporary art installations and outdoor events; clearly visible from the plaza,
activity in the museum lobby is only varies from normal docility when exhibits first open or
during private events. Overall, the plaza does not foster much usage multiplicity.

31
CASE STUDY 2
CENTERGY PLAZA

Located just across I-75/85 from Georgia


Tech’s main campus in midtown Atlanta,
Centergy plaza comprises a central position
within the relatively new Tech Square
redevelopment district. Surrounded by
high-tech offices, restaurants, university
functions, and other services, the area is
heavily trafficked by a diverse population
most days. Since the recent completion
of the widened 5th Street bridge, Tech
Square has become the university’s front door, with Centergy plaza providing
the district’s largest open space apart from the fields on the bridge itself. The
plaza’s 5th street frontage supports the most use and population diversity,
with a Tech Trolley stop, a heavily used east-west sidewalk, and a number
of restarants and cafes. The plaza’s north side is predominantly populated
by office workers walking in and out of the office buildings. The future calls
for more high-tech office development in the vacant lots just north of the site
which would likely affect how the plaza functions.

INTEGRATION ORGANICNESS SERIAL VISION


Metric reach = 24.5 Average age = 6.8 Visually dynamic
Directional reach = 44.5 Age Range = 2

EYES ON THE STREET MEMORABILITY MAGIC


Avg/max visibility = 89% “You are here” map Extensive groves

SITTABILITY SOFT EDGES MULTIPLICITY


Area per seat = 270 ft2 Average edge = 3.5 layers Controlled
Seat types = 3

32
URBAN 2
INTEGRATION: Located amidst midtown Atlanta’s street grid, Centergy plaza is very integrated
into the urban fabric infrastructurally. While its 1-mile metric reach is high (44.5), its directional
reach is exceptionally high relative to the rest of the city (an effect of the grid). If 5th Street did
not dead end at West Peachtree Street two blocks to the east, this value would be even higher.

ORGANICNESS: Built all at once, Tech Square is highly inorganic. The buildings around the
plaza share the same style and materials, though there is some scalar variation. Because the
plaza is entirely surrounded by structures of a common vintage, it is unlikely this place will
accrue organicness (unless part of the block is replaced or drastically changed in the future.)

A. Centergy Office Buildings, 2003


B. Global Learning Center, GT, 2003
C. GT School of Management, 2003
D. Midcity Lofts, 2002

Average building age = 6.8 years


Building age range = 2 years

SERIAL VISION: Varied shading conditions promote a diverse visual palette as one passes from
covered arcade to tree-lined bench rows to bright open plaza center. Moving to the northwest
corner, a constricting view down a staircase toward the parking deck affords a narrow vista of
Midtown towers and vacant lots - a sharp contrast to Tech Square’s mid-rise built-out persona.

33
ARCHITECTURAL 2
EYES ON THE STREET: Highly open to the street and geometrically uncomplicated, the plaza
contains no blind spots except along the northern stairs leading down to the rear driveway. If a
wider view-shed penetrated the office building along the plaza’s northern edge, the space would
become much redder relative to nearby intersections and corridors (see area map at right).

Visibility range = 147 - 477


Average visibility = 423
Avg/Max = 89%

MEMORABILITY: A visually generic and uninspiring physical environment, the place must
provide a map to position itself within the city - little memorarbly stands out here. Part of an
arbitrarily detailed urban system, the map’s “you are here” marker orients the passerthrough
in relation to a prescribed collection of civic and corporate landmarks in place of a personal set.

MAGIC: Though not particularly powerful, the extensive tree plantings inspire a somewhat
magical ambience, especially on a sunny day when the open plaza is oppressively exposed
and vacant but the shady grove is pleasantly cool and well-populated. People seem unusually
pleasant and happy in this generously shrouded condition.

34
PERSONAL 2
SITTABILITY: Benches line the plaza’s interior and a cafes and fastfood eateries line its front
corners with tables and chairs. Overall, there is a good variety of seats, especially among the
benches, which provide various shade conditions and are thus used heavily. Office workers
mingle during cigarette breaks and students congregate while eating or waiting for the Trolley.

115 total seats


31,100 ft2
270 ft2/seat
3 seat types
1 picnic table 11 benches 20 cafe tables
2 chairs/table 3 seats/bench 4 chairs/table
2 seats 33 seats 80 seats

SOFT EDGES: The edges around Centergy Plaza are very thick and complex. The central
plaza is rung with benches, landscaping, arcades, and storefronts. Bike parking and cafes also
intersperse at places. At midday, the trees within the landscape layer generate a shade gradient
from bright at plaza center to dark along the storefronts, emphasizing the edges’ deep softness.

Benches Benches Storefront


Covered walkway Landscape Landscape Arcade
Lobby entrance Arcade Cafe Bike parking
2 layers Storefront Storefront Landscape
4 layers 4 layers 4 layers

MULTIPLICITY: The wine bar hosts live jazz outdoors occassionally, along with periodic events
of other sorts; landscaping also educates the passerby and improves the owning corporation’s
image; a multi-modal, mixed-use tableau ensures activity variety. While the plaza often
bustles with diverse activities and uses, they are very controlled and rarely sponteneous.

35
CASE STUDY 3
WOODRUFF PARK

Located in the heart of downtown Atlanta,


this northern portion of Woodruff Park
is surrounded by some of the city’s most
important corporate offices and historic
architecture. This particular stretch of
Peachtree Street is one of the corridor’s
most active and dynamic, including major
hotels, tourist venues, and countless
eateries (many mainly open only for
lunch). Centered just south of the site,
the growing Georgia State University adds increasing student volumes to an
area characterized by white collar workers, tourists, street vendors, and the
homeless. During the day, the park is full of lunching office workers, resting
pedestrians, and congregating homeless people. At night the park is all but
empty, save a wandering tourist, passing police officer, or sleeping homeless
person. A long waterfall wall flanks the park’s east side and a shady grid of trees
and benches fills most of its north half. The space is auditorily characterized
by the mix of traffic noise with the waterfall’s steady roar.

INTEGRATION ORGANICNESS SERIAL VISION


Metric reach = 57.5 Average age = 56 Varied views against
Directional reach = 19.3 Age Range = 105 constant feature

EYES ON THE STREET MEMORABILITY MAGIC


Avg/max visibility = 98% Vast waterfall wall Cooling water’s roar

SITTABILITY SOFT EDGES MULTIPLICITY


Area per seat = 202 ft2 Average edge = 2.5 layers Liberal
Seat types = 1

36
URBAN 3
INTEGRATION: Centrally located within the city’s most integrated district, Woodruff Park
achieves a very high 1-mile metric reach value (57.5). Its directional reach (19.3) probably
registers lower than it should: the westerly blocks’ apparent angularity on these maps suggests
the GIS data used for the analysis was inaccurate (blocks are much more square in reality).

ORGANICNESS: Located at the city’s center, the plaza is surrounded by some of the region’s
most significant urban edifaces, from the 19th century Flatiron Building to the modernist
Equitable Building to contemporary Georgia State additions. This might be one of Atlanta’s
most architecturally rich and organic environments.

A. Candler Building, 1906


B. Georgia-Pacific Plaza, 1983
C. Suntrust Bank Building, 1971
D. Flatiron Building, 1897
E. Aderhold Learning Center, GSU, 2002
F. Equitable Building, 1968

Average building age = 55.5 years


Building age range = 105 years

SERIAL VISION: Set in the city’s heart, every view from this section of Woodruff Park includes
a different part of Atlanta’s diverse skyline. Each vista, however, cannot avoid including the
plaza’s primary feature, a long waterfall wall. Starting from the southeast corner, move along
the water’s edge in the open sun until the shady gridded grove where diverse people rest.

37
ARCHITECTURAL 3
EYES ON THE STREET: Geometrically simple, almost totally flat, and without tall visual
obstructions, the plaza can be completely observed from almost every vantage except around
its northern and southern corners. The tree grove might be the only section potentially
containing blind spots.

Visibility range = 78 - 393


Average visibility = 386
Avg/Max = 98%

MEMORABILITY: Easily the plaza’s defining feature, the long waterfall along the back edge
frames and characterizes the entire space. The sparkling, roaring wall foregrounds the city’s
impressive skyline, provides a unique backdrop to passing figures, and creates a memorable
atmosphere in which to pause and socialize.

MAGIC: Dominated by the waterfall’s roar, the plaza is both isolating and democratizing
in magical simultaneity. Because of its wide openness, one can always see almost everyone
occupying the plaza but can never hear anyone unless very near them. Thus, a diverse
population can “silently” share the same, cool space in peace and relaxation.

38
PERSONAL 3
SITTABILITY: The only seat type in this section of Woodruff Park is the well-dimensioned
linear bench system that runs along the waterfall and amongst the trees. Wide enough to sit,
eat, or sleep on, the seating accommodates enough different sorts of activities to transcend its
formal homogeneity.

125 total seats


25,300 ft2
202 ft2/seat
1 seat type
Uniform benches
along pool and
amongst trees
~125 seats

SOFT EDGES: The plaza’s edges are characterized by water on one side, landscaping flanked by
sidewalk on the other, and a continuous bench/ledge all around. Located at a key intersection
downtown, the entire plaza could be considered a large-scale urban edge, layered as follows:
street, sidewalk, landscaping, benches, trees, open, benches, water.

Tree line Sidewalk Sidewalk


Bench Bench Bench Pool
Pool Landscaping Landscaping 1 layer
3 layers 3 layers 3 layers

MULTIPLICITY: The water’s edge accomodates small scale meetings and snacks; the southern
expanse hosts civic gatherings, including the monthly Critical Mass bike ride starting line; and
the heavily shaded, well-benched interior accommodates congenial homeless congregations.
Centrally located and accommodatingly designed, this plaza enables much multiplicity.

39
CASE STUDY SUMMARY
The three preceding case studies demonstrate how the literature review’s
metrics apply and result in real places. By connecting perceived social and
experiential phenomena with the physical space that produces, enables,
inhibits, or otherwise accommodates it, the urban designer learns in trans-
ferrable detail how design decisions affect the life of a space.

One word of caution: though similarly studied, these sites are not neces-
sarily directly comparable nor should one be deemed better than another
simply because it scored more favorably according to a particular metric.
The case studies are meant to help elucidate the sites on their own terms,
not in relation to each other. Furthermore, the same score for a metric might
prove favorable for one site but not for another. Each metric’s measurement
depends on so many variously contingent factors that a comparison based
on these metrics alone – especially a judgmental comparison – would hardly
be tenable.

Instead, the metrics should be used to clarify current conditions or gauge the
effects of potential changes to the current given condition. A designer could
run the analysis, make (or propose) a change, and then re-run the analysis
to see how the change affects the social and experiential nature of the site.
This utilization method informs the study’s potential policy implications as
outlined in the following pages.

40
POLICY IMPLICATIONS
This study has potentially powerful policy implications: if the mapping and
analysis process demonstrated by these three case studies was required of
all designers and developers at the outset of their project’s planning phase, it
is likely their projects would consequentially incur more favorable social and
experiential characteristics. The Environmental Impact Statement process
mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) operates in this
way: by forcing designers to engage with certain issues at the design’s first
phase ensures the final design will satisfactorily respond to the issues after
implementation.

The urban design field needs a similar regulatory evaluation system to ensure
designers adequately accommodate the city’s social and experiential needs
and wants – call it an Experiential Impact Statement. If, at the beginning of a
development project (or maybe, more aptly, at the beginning of a redevelopment
project), a designer was required to consider and document the metrics
described here (and more), s/he would more than likely incorporate what
that process illuminated about the site’s social and experiential conditions
and potentials into subsequent design phases and into the final, built product.

CURRENT BUILDING REGULATION AGENCIES AND PROCESSES

At a project’s planning outset, the EPA requires that the lead development
party prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. Preparing this document
requires the developers to outline the project’s environmental consequences
and confront these realities well before the project is built or even very
extensively planned (to move forward with the planning process, a project’s
early-stage Environmental Impact Statement must be meticulously assembled,
publicly vetted, and federally approved). Having outlined and evaluated their
project’s environmental impact early in the design process, the developer
becomes compelled to adjust their later design concepts to avoid potential
negative impacts uncovered by the Environmental Impact Statement process.
Had the developers been spared this process, environmental consequences
might never have crossed their minds and the project might have ended up an
ecological blight.

Other regulating agencies also require such preliminary project studies to


ensure their particular concerns are accommodated before construction
begins. Engineering bodies regulate structural and topographical issues to
ensure the building sits in the ground and stands up properly; fire departments
verify plans on the drawing boards support fire safety; ADA requirements
govern accessibility; banks confirm financing solvency; and so on.

41
But who regulates urban design? More specifically, who regulates the social
experience of urban design projects?

CURRENT URBAN DESIGN REGULATION AGENCIES AND PROCESSES

Zoning controls land uses, setbacks, buildable area, and other general
development aspects, but while zoning is one of the first limiters checked
during the early design phase, conforming to zoning does not require engaging
with the project’s potential experiential or social impact.

Form based codes and other building codes more formal than basic zoning
laws come closer to governing a project’s experience and influencing its design
accordingly at early concept development stages, but again, all the designer
must do is follow the code to comply – s/he is never compelled to actively
engage with the project’s impact on the social and experiential phenomena,
even if the code was written to protect or promote a certain experience or
social agenda.

Design review boards are highly project-specific and contextual in their


evaluation. They consider whether a proposal conforms to their vision of the
place it is slated to inhabit and, in their deliberations, they likely consider
the project’s possible social and experiential consequences in addition to its
physical and formal impact. But, again, their ruling only indirectly influences
the project’s actual design process – they are not on the team that conceives
the project in the first place so their often highly valid and applicably informed
concerns are therefore not embedded in the project’s design.

There doesn’t seem to be an agency or process that ensures urban designers


are taking social and experiential issues into account during their project’s
initial design phases – the most critical time to influence a development
process. Perhaps it is time for an Environmental Impact Statement of sorts
tailored to address these urban design concerns.

EXPERIENTIAL IMPACT STATEMENT

Just as developers of large enough projects are required by the EPA to complete
an Environmental Impact Statement early in the design process, urban
designers could be required to complete an Experiential Impact Statement at
or near the beginning of their schematic design stage. The procedure would
involve mapping and analyzing the project’s site and its surroundings with
various quantitative and qualitative methods to ensure the designers are
cognizant of the myriad social and experiential consequences of their work.
The resultant document would resemble something like an extended version

42
of one of this paper’s case studies and would help guide the designers as they
develop their project, ensuring they keep social and experiential issues at
their attentions’ fore.

The Experiential Impact Statement could be mandated by the city, solicited


by a request for proposal, and/or demanded by a client. However ultimately
implemented, the document and its production process is not intended
to strictly regulate urban design outcomes – instead it simply needs to be
part of the design and development process to ensure the issues it exposes
are addressed by designers, recognized by clients and even, in some cases,
presented to the general public.

More educational tool than regulating device, the Experiential Impact


statement process could positively influence urban design projects’ social and
experiential qualities in the following ways:

INTEGRATION

One of the more straightforward metrics, the designers of a project subject to


the Experiential Impact Statement would run the GIS analysis on their site and
its environs as demonstrated by this paper’s case studies. This process would
help them understand where their site resides within the city’s network of
integrated and not-so-integrated mobility channels. They would learn socio-
spatial importance of the streets binding their site and the streets connecting
their site to the rest of the city. Perhaps this knowledge would inform their
building’s footprint or orientation. It might also inform how they perforate
their site with public open space and passages – they could knowingly
capitalize on potentially important routes alongside and/or through their
project (or at least avoid disrupting them).

ORGANICNESS

With an idea how their project’s vicinity has developed over time, designers
would become equipped to engage their surrounding historical context. Having
researched the origins and histories of neighboring sites and structures, they
might feel more compelled to engage that built heritage (whereas they might
have otherwise ignored it). They might see their project as another piece of
the longstanding urban puzzle instead of a discrete investment manifestation
in a vacuum. This would contribute to the overall urban experience by
encouraging symbolic relationships between structures old and new about
the city.

43
SERIAL VISION

Instead of generating a single money-shot perspective to promote their


projects, designers would have to represent their sites and proposals with
series of images that emphasize the dynamic experience incurred by passing
through and/or past it. Whereas the money-shot represents a single moment
from a single vantage that isn’t always honestly portrayed, the image series
more faithfully expresses the multi-angled reality of a space as seen moving
through space and time. This helps the designer consider the users’ extended
experience of the project (rather than just a single view at a single moment)
and it helps stakeholders realize more precisely what effect the project will
have on its part of their city.

EYES ON THE STREET

Required to run the Depth Map isovist analysis on their sites and proposals as
demonstrated in this paper’s case studies, designers may quickly quantify and
visualize the visual range from all points and ascertain where people might or
might not feel exposed or secluded, safe or vulnerable. This tool makes it easy
to see exactly where troublesome corners might exist and it helps the city
specifically recommend where design adjustments should be made.

MEMORABILITY

On one hand, if, while preliminarily surveying and scouting their site,
designers were required to acknowledge and document the particularly
memorable and distinctive aspects in and surrounding it, they might be more
inclined to preserve existing points of heritage. On the other hand, if asked
to report exactly how they plan to memorably mark their project before too
many plans are drawn, stakeholders and citizens can more directly vet their
attention-grabbing strategy to be sure it contributes to the city’s overall
system of landmarks and icons. Perhaps the designer would even be asked to
place their site and their proposal within that system to prove it participates
appropriately in the monumental dialogue.

MAGIC

A difficult metric to measure, perhaps the designers would simply be asked

44
to reflect in a statement about the potential for magic around the site and
comment on how they might work to enhance (or at least not detract from) it.
It is unreasonable to require every building to create magic (or memorability
for that matter), but the designers should at least be made aware of its
presence and/or possibility.

SITTABILITY

Another very straightforward and practical device, seating studies would


ensure designers are providing adequate sitting conditions for the people
inhabiting the space. By comparing the number of users (or expected users)
to the space’s area, designers can pragmatically ensure they are including
enough seats to fill demand. Providing a planned seating schedule would
help ensure the space will include an adequate variety of seat types (benches,
chairs, tables, ledges, etc.) in enough environmental conditions (shade, sun,
water, loud, quiet, etc.) to satisfy typical, heterogeneous demand.

SOFT EDGES

If asked to explain their approach to and/or understanding of the site’s


building edges, designers will be forced to engage the visual and physical
boundaries of their structures. By providing schematic sections documenting
the layers they intend to introduce early in the design process, the authorities
can confirm that the project will be sufficiently porous and epidermally
activated given surrounding conditions and precedent.

MULTIPLICITY

While this metric might not be directly measurable, it helpfully encourages


the designers to consider all hours of the day, week, and year as they imagine
how their project will be occupied. Perhaps the designers would be required
to execute a documentary study of the site and its environs during the early
design phases to observe and report the complete variety of activity the area
contains and supports around the clock. Recognizing or at least acknowledging
the potential for spontaneity and dynamism might help expand the designers’
imagination about what all their project might be able to accommodate.

ANALYITICAL GESTALT OR CATCH 22

In a perfect world, designers subject to the above gauntlet would, in turn,


produce projects that embody the best of what each metric seeks to ascertain.

45
Realistically, however, after running the analytical gamut, it might become clear
that few sites and/or designers can positively deliver on all fronts. Perhaps, in
a particular case, excelling according to one metric directly entails floundering
according to another. For example, certain labyrinthine site conditions might
promote “serial vision” but inhibit “eyes on the street”. It is not this study’s
purpose to make sure all sites pass all tests. Instead, the study and its metrics
simply hope to expand the ways and means by which designers analyze their
site and anticipate their proposals’ effects.

REDEVELOPMENT VERSUS NEW DEVELOPMENT

The spectrum of urban design project types runs from minimal redevelopment
within mature urban fabric (such as revising a downtown plaza) to entirely
new developments separate from existing urban structure (such as a new city
or district built from scratch). In the former case, this study should be used to
evaluate preexisting social and experiential conditions and then measure how
proposed redevelopments will influence and interact with what surrounds
and came before them. In the latter case, this study should be used to expand
the design imagination and help ensure the new project fosters social and
experiential richness.

HOW TO USE, DEVELOP, AND ADVANCE THIS STUDY

This study should be used as a model to inform a more sophisticated and


comprehensive process of urban design analysis and evaluation. There are
always more authors’ perspectives to include and more ways to measure
and/or document the expandable set of quantitative and qualitative metrics.
Recommended next steps include further vetting the study by applying it to
more places elsewhere in the world and expanding it into a policy initiative
intent on positively influencing urban design development and enriching the
public evaluation process of urban project proposals (akin to the Experiential
Impact Statement concept introduced above).

46
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Alexander, Christopher. A New Theory of Urban Design. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1987.

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Co., 1971.

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Conservation Foundation, 1980.

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IMAGE CREDITS
All images on pages 9-25 scanned from associated texts except the following:

Page 9
Top and bottom: courtesy of Dr. John Peponis, Georgia Tech

Page 15
Top: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christianmontone/3843460642/
Bottom: http://www.peripheralfocus.net/images/Eindhoven_Syntax_Map.jpg

Page 17:
Top: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8511649@N03/3084877212/

All other images produced by the author.

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