I thumbsup this space

…well, maybe not this particular space. Project for Public Spaces diagnoses Wall Street with “siege mentality”, and I’d say they’re right.

Expert assessment

Project for Public Spaces is a NY-based organisation trying to take the mystery out of creating good public spaces. What makes public spaces work? What makes them fail? How do we define their success? Like everyone else, they profess to know the answers, and share some of them in their Placemaking 101 articles. What’s interesting is that they analyze existing spaces around the world and publish them in their Great Places Gallery or Hall of Shame, which suggests that their guidelines are derived from real world observation.

In the current climate of innovation pressure, this is more the exception than the rule – but there’s a lot to be said for learning from past success and failure, especially when it comes to the built environment. Many public spaces have had decades to prove themselves, and many have failed or succeeded spectacularly for plainly visible reasons.

PPS defines four categories for judging public spaces:

  • access & linkages
  • comfort & image
  • uses & activities
  • sociability

Unfortunately they don’t consistently apply each of these categoriesto the spaces assessed – otherwise, this could be the start of a great database. Imagine if they made this a separate open-source database, and planners, academic researchers and students around the world could add their spatial analyses of specific spaces? The amount of data we produce in design schools alone…

Everyone else’s opinion: ratings

But pro outfits like the PPS, students and other experts(-to-be) aren’t the only way to go, either. Services such as Qype.com have allowed people to rate geographically fixed services like bars and hotels for years. It’s been connected to google.maps for a while, too. What I didn’t know: they  also have a category for landmarks, which includes public parks and also entire streets like Bergmannstrasse in Kreuzberg. These entries are not very conclusive (usually not numerous either), but they’re heading in an interesting direction: expressing opinions on space has become democratic. No longer is the opinion of planners and guidebooks the only one that can be heard.

Dammit, they’re still not smiling… clown squads to E8!
Monitoring spaces, or: finding a city’s ‘happy places’ (?)

Of course, you still have to make an effort to express how you feel about a space, and most people aren’t willing to make that effort – understandably. So, for a dystopian tech twist, what about automatic quality monitoring of spaces? How about measuring smiles per hour with London’s all-over CCTV? We’ve got facial recognition software capable of identifying individual people – identifying smiles/laughter anonymously should be a piece of cake. Imagine a dynamic map showing a city’s patterns of acute joy over the course of a day… and what an amazing tool for municipal governments, healthcare, real-estate agents & tourism that would be!


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