William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner on Vimeo


I was actually very happy to find this video online. I think it is a resource that every designer should take a look at, and is as true today as when it was made. This video was produced by William H. Whyte, one of the greats in urban design, for New York City. In it, he takes an empirical look at which public spaces in the city are used and how. He found some commonalities. Good plazas have lots of places to sit, and they are located in places where people actually want to sit. They are connected to the street and the activity thereon. They have some access to natural light, although not always direct; Whyte makes a point of the light that is reflected off the glass facades of towers. Many have access to food, including formal cafes as well as food vendors and trucks. Many have access to water, and more importantly, the water can actually be used. Trees provide seasonal shade and a sort of covering or enclosure. The final element is what Whyte calls “triangulation,” or something that attracts people to the plaza. It could be public art, street performances, or something else entirely. These principles, even today, would make a great public space.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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