The Future of Public Space Analytics

Assessing the successes or failures of public urban space projects is an essential evidence based approach to learning form our designs and finding out how to improv esteem, it is surprising how little of this is done, costs are often an issue as clients are willing to pay for works before not after project an professionals are understandably loath to tell their clients that their work is not successful – but techniques of increasing their effectiveness are multiplying

the AGILE landscape project

public_space_metrics_header_2Public space is an essential component of any great city. It brings people together to socialize, recreate, and work. More pointedly, it attracts people to the city, builds relationships, and spurs innovation and new ideas that fuel a city’s economic growth. How we optimize the investments made in our streetscapes, plazas, parks, and greenways is important to each individual project’s success and the city as a whole. Are the places being built fulfilling their promise? If so, could they be doing more and if not, how do they need to change?

As budgets get tight and the competition for resources within a city’s budget increases, it becomes even more essential to answer these questions. We need to get the most out of our existing public spaces and when designing those in the future we need to make sure we build upon the successes and don’t repeat past mistakes. 

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How does your city compare to others? New ISO standard to measure up (2014-05-14) – ISO

A landmark ISO standard outlining key measurements for evaluating a city’s service delivery and quality of life has just been published. Its use will help city managers, politicians, researchers, business leaders, planners, designers and other professionals to focus on key issues, and put in place policies for more livable, tolerant, sustainable, resilient, economically attractive and prosperous cities


More and more empirical  indicators – less and less people involved in  them – who’s to say whats important to a northern European city administrator has any relevance in Kigali or Chattanooga?

See on Scoop.itUrban Choreography


How do we to bring life to cities? Jérôme Lapierre, our architectural assistant and winner of Prix de Rome, offers his highlights from Jan’s recent winter lectures.


In his recent series of winter lectures for the Copenhagen office, Jan Gehl asked the question “Cities for people – but how?” Questions of this sort have been fascinating him since he met his psychologist wife, which more or less coincided with the thoughts of Jane Jacobs’ book – ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. The 1960’s was a time of drastic changes as Modernist thinking lead to what Jan calls ‘the car invasion’. The result – extreme scale confusion, is visible in these illustrations: People moving at a slow pace (5km/h) mixed with cars wanting to go faster (60 km/h), and architecture caught in the middle. Modernism certainly changed the life between buildings…


While this change was taking place around the world, some streets, for instance in Denmark, started to get pedestrianized, like Strøget in Copenhagen and Houmeden in Randers.

Left: Strøget, Copenhagen 1962. Right: Randers, 1962

Jan realized that the most important scale is the people-scale, where we move at a natural pace of 5 km/h. This is also the scale in which human life unfolds and where all human senses are involved. Copenhagen as a city made many remarkable modifications to invite people to walk and cycle. It is in fact, the first city in the world where data was gathered, life in the city and its people was studied – to create a human scale city.


The Copenhagen Story from 1962-2014


– from traffic focus to a people-oriented place:

  • Phase 1 / 1960-1980: Pedestrian streets
  • Phase 2/ 1980-2000: Café culture
  • Phase 3/ 2000-now: Recreational activities/playgrounds


Copenhagen Today

Since these progressive changes began to appear, the ‘city for cars’ paradigm slowly flipped to a ‘city for people’ in the culture of the city and in people’s minds.

The future looks very promising, since a new Danish architectural policy was published (February 2014), entitled ‘Putting people first’ – A strong gesture to Gehl Architect’s work improving the cities by focusing on the people.
Another sign that these changes have had a positive effect, is the fact that Copenhagen was awarded  ‘most livable city in the world’ several times by the magazine Monocle, most recently in 2014 (watch video below). This proves that people-centric urban planning gets noticed for the positive impact on city culture and vivid urban life.


Basic Functions of Public Space – Gehl Architects

The basic functions of public space remain sacred: for people to meet and exchange ideas. Integrating security measures into public spaces in Copenhagen.


Responses to terror threats are insidious -they undermine our urbanity and like the security cameras at shopping centres undermine our common humanity – difficult as they are to argue against we need to fond design and social alternatives to these security paranoia responses by the establishment

See on Scoop.itUrban Choreography

Trees in the Townscape – A Guide for Decision Makers

Info you should know about trees in a handy format

Landscape Interface Studio

Tree and Design Action Group – The group shares the collective vision that the location of trees, and all the benefits they bring, can be secured for future generations by influencing the planning, design, construction and management of our urban infrastructure and spaces.

“Trees make places work, look and feel better.  As well as playing a role in climate proofing our neighbourhoods and supporting human health and environmental well-being, trees can also help to create conditions for economic success.  This guide takes a 21st century approach to urban trees, providing decision makers with the principles and references they need to fully realise this potential.

This is an approach to trees that keeps pace with and responds to the challenges of our times.  Trees in the Townscape offers a comprehensive set of 12 action-oriented principles which can be adapted to the unique context of your own town or city to provide a roadmap for trees in a 21st century context. Each principle is fully supported by explanations of delivery mechanisms, examples of the…

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New York and California are Building the Grid of the Future

How we integrate the distributed  energy network into the existing power supply system is a key question fro sustainable energy growth and the problem of vested interests delaying this process is a evident in Cape Town, where pilot projects are only now getting underway and the City of Cpae Town as the power supplier is at odds with allowing the resale of power at the same price as it pays, as it is electricity sales that are one of the prime sources of income of the City, these examples from New York and California , show our situation is not unique From RMI Outlet

In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell popularized the process—first described by Everett Rogers—by which innovative ideas, policies, and products start with a small but influential minority of early adopters and then spread rapidly to a much wider segment of the market. The planning and design of the electric grid could be at just such a tipping point, with New York and California leading the chargeon how to integrate significantly higher amounts of distributed energy resources (DERs) onto a grid historically built around centralized assets like large power plants.

While New York and California have different existing levels of DER adoption, electricity policy objectives, history, and market structures, the two initiatives share common drivers. Both states recognize the importance of fundamental changes to the regulated investor-owned utility business model and distribution planning process. Both processes are designed to position the electric system to succeed in an environment of changing technology costs and capabilities, improve system resilience and customer opportunities, and address the electric system’s impact on climate.


In April 2014, the New York Public Service Commission launched the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding. The ambitious initiative is the first in the nation to propose an entity to perform the role of a “distributed system platform (DSP) provider.” The DSP model gives life to a new market for distributed resources to provide energy services, similar to a distribution-level independent system operator (ISO) but focused on DERs rather than central grid assets.

The DSP in NY will interface between the bulk power system, utilities, DER providers, and retail customers. While much is yet to be decided, the REV proceeding envisions DSPs as platforms for innovation and market-based deployment of DERs.

California launched a rulemaking proceeding in July 2014 pursuant to Assembly Bill 327, which requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to develop distribution resources plans (DRPs) to better integrate DERs onto the grid. California is the national leader in installed capacity of solar PV, and therefore faces unique challenges related to an existing, scaled deployment of DERs that has not yet materialized in New York.  Moreover, due to the California statutory requirement to focus on DRPs, the process is focused on technical matters related to DER integration, and does not explicitly explore how utility business models may need to change to better integrate DERs. The California initiative does not create a new distributed resource market like the one envisioned in NY. However, like NY, the California process intends “to mov(e) the IOUs towards a more full integration of DERs into their distribution system planning, operations and investment.”


To understand where each state may be headed, we focus on four key questions:

  • What is the role of markets versus mandates in creating the future system?
  • What does distribution system planning look like in a high-DER future?
  • What is the best market structure and regulatory framework to attract data-driven innovation and new energy services?
  • What are the roles of the customer and the utility in the future system

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Where Chaos Is Normal: How Times Square Operates

Public Space as spectacle is exemplified by Times Square in New York , behind the endless event that is experienced by every visitor to it is a lot of unseen hard work supported by a governance process that make it possible: From Urban Omnibus


Times Square runs on spectacle. Bigger and brighter is always better. And though plenty of New Yorkers wear their criticism of Times Square as a badge of local honor, calling it a tourist trap stripped of its former authenticity, there is no denying its place as one of the most iconic public spaces in the world. In recent years, as stretches of Broadway formerly open to vehicular traffic have been repurposed as pedestrian plazas, opportunities to activate the “crossroads of the world” with events, performances, and public art installations have ballooned. The Square hosts hundreds of events, film and television shoots, and public art installations and performances every year. Each has to maneuver around the hundreds and thousands of workers, commuters, visitors, and business owners that pass through every day, and negotiate the regulations and priorities of a host of city agencies.Damian Santucci is Director of Production and Operations for the Times Square Alliance, the business improvement district that covers 41st to 53rd Streets from 6th to 8th Avenues and 46th Street’s “restaurant row.” As such, he’s responsible for overseeing and facilitating all on-the-ground activity in the Square, from a small public art installation to the annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza. Here, Santucci explains the particular challenges and perks of operating one of the busiest and most recognizable places in the world and walks us through the logistics of making the spectacle happen.–V.S.

Varick Shute: What does the day-to-day work of the Director of Production and Operations for the Times Square Alliance entail?
Damian Santucci: I manage on-the-ground operations in the Square, which includes working with our internal sanitation and public safety departments and the various city agencies that need to be involved in whatever is happening on a given day. As a business improvement district (BID), our budget comes from assessments paid by the business and property owners in Times Square, so technically we work for them. Part of my job is making sure their businesses can operate efficiently in the middle of everything else happening around them.

On the production side, I coordinate with event producers and oversee the set up and staging of events — going on walk-throughs, making approvals, looking over drawings, and making changes — and deal with complications that come up during that process: where are the fire lanes? How is a truck going to get through? How is an installation going to be built? Can it stand up to the weather — wind, rain, snow, ice? How is it going to affect the public? I’m there on overnights making sure that things get loaded in correctly or making sure the shoots are abiding by the rules.

Your work is funded by the businesses in the Square, but the area is also one of the most iconic public spaces in the world, from which the public expects certain things. How does the Alliance serve all those constituencies?
We have to balance what’s good for the owners, what’s good for the Square, and what’s good for New York, and sometimes those interests don’t line up. If you’re a business owner in Times Square, the main thing you care about is that people come here and walk past your store. They might not want a variety of public activities that could block their entrance. For example, nobody makes money on New Year’s Eve; the businesses are mostly closed. But New Year’s Eve is New Year’s Eve — it keeps people coming to Times Square and it’s very good for the city. So there’s a tradeoff, and we try to keep everybody happy.

What role do you think Times Square plays in the city and for the people who live here?
When I first thought about taking this job, Alliance president Tim Tompkins asked what the Square meant to me. The best explanation I could think of was my experience with Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Everyone knows Michelangelo and everyone has read about, studied, and seen a thousand pictures of the Sistine Chapel. If you get to visit it, your expectations are to the moon and back; nothing can meet them. When I finally went for myself, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever see in my life. It made my expectations seem so small. That’s how people all over the world see Times Square. I take great pride in making it so that somebody can walk into Times Square and her expectations are just as blown through the roof as mine were at the Vatican. I want someone’s first reaction to Times Square to be, “Oh wow, this place is amazing.” If that happens, we did our job.

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Mobilizing Power: Street Vendors and Urban Resilience

Th role of street traders in the public space of cities is constantly undermined in the extension of City Improvement Districts who see them as competition of the rate & rent paying proprietors and owners of urban land. Froth perspective of visitors and tourists and the local population street vendors add a unique ambience to the urban scene. Some problems that are used to justify the control of them and limit their spread is that they are  are often not independent, but owned / financed by hidden entrprenueurs who provide the goods and services of their trade through many small vendors who are intact just employees and this result is the street vendors not supplying anything unique, but simply multiplying the trade in grey imports of commodities such as panties and face creams, or fizzy drinks and chips,a s is ht case in Cape Town, where it is difficult to see any reason for having the rows of stalls all  still selling the same goods. Genuine  traders not selling endless commodities or poor reproductions of tourist nik-naks are hard dot find, ye the y are obviously seeing their goods to someone, but as the stall space is limited the opportunities for real traders are limited by this competition. From Urban Omnibus a report on New Yorks traders:

For more than 200 years, street vendors have been an integral part of New York City. Department store giants Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, after all, started as collectives of door-to-door salespeople. And even more so than those institutions, New York’s estimated 20,000 vendors — by way of their highly visible sidewalk sale of food, flowers, art, books, and more — are embedded firmly in the city’s collective imaginary. When it rains in Manhattan, an umbrella is so easy to come by that a T-Mobile billboard once claimed that its network was faster than an umbrella vendor’s anticipation of rain. The public nature of vending extends to the roles vendors actively take on as direction-givers or go-to sources of change for a $10 bill.

Despite their provision of sought-after services, fellow business interests and policymakers often dismiss vendors as problematic, in part because their lack of a rent payment is considered an unfair leg-up on nearby brick and mortar shops. Regulation of the profession reflects this: vendors’ sidewalk presence is managed under convoluted rules too often used to remove them from areas where they’re deemed unwanted. Tellingly, the map of the city’s Business Improvement Districts, which are funded by local business interests, is roughly congruent with the map of streets where vending is prohibited. This bias against vending extends beyond the BIDs’ domains: across the city, vendors receive on average 40,000 tickets a year. A ticket can carry a fine of up to $1,000 for an infraction as minor as operating an inch too close to the curb or failing to display a vending license around one’s neck. Vendors are arrested roughly 10,000 times a year for reasons ranging from vending without a license to failing to comply with a police officer’s order to move, even when they are lawfully set up.

The cooperation of different New Yorkers, including street vendors in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy calls for a new emphasis on urban collaboration and symbiosis in disaster planning and city planning more broadly. Rather than offering free batteries from their Power Forward truck when the electrical grid shuts down, Duracell could partner with street vendors to distribute them, increasing their coverage area and stemming the use of short-term business tactics like price gouging. Rather than hiring an extra information guide, tourist agencies could work with vendors already performing this role in Lower Manhattan, allowing them to officially do so. Rather than deploying additional solar mobile charging stations, AT&T could invest in the social infrastructure of the city by having street vendors offer charging on the street in exchange for additional revenue.

Opportunities abound, especially when it comes to retrofitting street carts or food trucks to mitigate the pollution and noise that comes with their gas generators. Rather than invest in a project like Simply Grid, which provides on-demand sidewalk access to grid electricity through fixed kiosks, we could power vendors with energy sources like solar panels or biofuels that do not reduce their physical mobility or ability to remain operational when the main energy grid goes dark. Projects aspiring to this already exist: the solar-powered GrowNYC van in Union Square, Our Lady of Detritus’ “sunbrella”-powered mobile A/V system, the Solar Power Pops Truck, and the vegetable oil-fueled BLK Projek mobile green market in the South Bronx. Encouraging such programs and incubating new partnerships would not only lessen overall demand for energy and increase the amount derived from renewable sources, but street vendors acting as ambassadors for these models would increase the visibility of alternative energy sources in our most accessible and prominent public space: the sidewalk.

Because of their mobility, position on the sidewalk, and diverse demographics, street vendors are uniquely positioned to improve urban resilience. But if we are to build upon the unrecognized social role that vendors already play to help us further mitigate, adapt to, and recover from times of crisis, we must ensure that their multiple daily struggles are addressed. When vendors’ right to the sidewalk is threatened, not only are their livelihoods in danger, but the city loses out on this potential. Let’s build on infrastructure that already exists by facilitating strategic partnerships that will valorize, legitimize, and enable street vendors to work beyond their reductionist primary function and confront broader urban issues. It is time for the City to stop treating vendors as a nuisance, and to instead recognize their latent potential as rapidly deployable social infrastructure that can address existing and future needs.

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