Sunday, 1 February 2015

Absolute must reads for park and urban design!

The Social life of small Urban Places

The Movie

The film quality of the movie at the start is rather poor, but stick with it as its about the content. 

Made in 1980 so some amusement can be gained from the conservative fashion, but the main point is the simplicity of how humans react in public space and what makes a space successful or not. 
Note; at the end of the film the recommendations made to the New York City planners and how in the present day the effects can been seen, think of how many areas have movable chairs and how the atmosphere of the city has changed from many complete no go areas, to a city that now feels so much safer.
The present issue (as with all popular cities) is gentrification, the meat packing district has been changed by the High Line Park which is great, but the lower paid workers who service the area are being pushed out by unregulated high rents, all cause and effect. So what ever we do as designers, we have to always look to the bigger picture, build a frame work for flexibility so area can evolve without expensive re-builds and social cleansing.

I so love this little film, Holly Whytes voice reminds me of my wise grandparents, thoughtful, never rushing a sentence, understanding the power of a pause and the simple profound observations of the world around them. 

Some Books Absolute Musts!!!

The Social life of small Urban Places  Author William H Whyte 

A good review blog of the book an essential for anyone who wants to understand Why some one would possibly want to vibist and stay in your park....

Ignore this book at your peril. Based most of my final degree design on his proven observations 

'A park without people is a field'

The Wit and Wisdom of Holly Whyte 
Gathered by Albert LaFarge 
  • People sit most where there are places to sit. 
  • Good aesthetics is good economics. 
  • What attracts people most, it would seem, is other people. 
  • The street is the river of life of the city; and what is a river for if not to be swum in and drunk from? 
  • The human backside is a dimension architects seem to have forgotten. 
  • New York is a city of skilled pedestrians. 
  • Supply creates demand. A good new space builds its constituency—gets people into new habits, like eating outdoors; induces them to new paths. 
  • So-called undesirables are not the problem. It is the measures taken to combat them that is the problem. . . . The best way to handle the problem of undesirables is to make a place attractive to everyone else. 
  • Most ledges are inherently sittable, but with a little ingenuity and additional ex- pense they can be made unsittable. 
  • It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished. 
  • Walls are put up in the mistaken notion that they will make a space feel safer. Too often they make it feel isolated and gloomy. 
  • By default street vendors have become the caterers of the city’s outdoor life. They flourish because they are servicing a demand the downtown establishment does not.
  • When people start to fill up a space, they do not distribute themselves evenly across it. They go where the other people are. Dense areas get denser. 
  • Planners sometimes worry that a place might be made too attractive and thereby overcrowded. The worry should be in the opposite direction. The carrying capacity of most urban spaces is far above the use that is made of them. 
The Wit and Wisdom of Holly Whyte 39 
  • Simulated cities for people who don’t like cities, it turns out, are not such a goodidea after all. 
  • Blank walls proclaim the power of the institution and the inconsequence of the individual, whom they are clearly meant to intimidate. Stand by the new FBI headquarters in Washington. You feel guilty just looking at it. 
  • In the matter of zoning bonuses and incentives, what you do not specify you do not get. 
  • In some American cities so much of downtown has been cleared for parking that there is now more parking than there is city. . . . One of the greatest boons of mass transit is what it makes unnecessary: the leveling of downtown for parking. 
  • Food attracts people who attract more people. 
  • Big buildings cast big shadows. Bigger buildings cast bigger shadows. 
  • People in big cities walk faster than people in smaller cities. 
  • The waterwall in Greenacre Park makes fine music. 
  • In almost every U.S. city the bulk of the right of way is given to vehicles the least, to people on foot. This is in inverse relationship to need. 
  • Ninety-fourth Street is the honkingest street in town. I love it. I live here. 

 Note Greenwich Students: This book is in the Library

A Visual Approach To Park Design By A J Rutledge

The second book I used extensively to get to my final master plan layout especially, concerning the whereabouts of places within the park as in Water, Food, Places to Sit, Connection and Flow of People within the park, Placement of Noisy and Quiet areas and their effects on the groups that choose to stay or move through the spaces.


Addresses the study of human behaviour as a central concern in the design of parks and other public spaces. It turns the act of people-watching into a tool for gathering design-relevant data for playgrounds, campgrounds, neighborhood parks, sitting spaces, urban plazas and teen hangouts, without the need for complicated instruments, highly trained personnel, or big budgets. The findings of behaviourists are translated into practical design steps and highlights common design errors, using hundreds of illustrations and actual examples of behaviour-oriented techniques.

 Note Greenwich Students: This book is in the Library

Space is the Machine By Bill Hillier

A heavy read, but to take it to the next stage on the theory of walking through space and effects of mass, void, nodes, way points. The perception of distance using visual cues, Fascinating read.And very useful in confirming as to whether your design has any justification of working from a general human perspective, after all its about the end user.....not the designer.

A PDF download

Cities for People By Jan Gehl


For more than forty years Jan Gehl has helped to transform urban environments around the world based on his research into the ways people actually use—or could use—the spaces where they live and work. In this revolutionary book, Gehl presents his latest work creating (or recreating) cityscapes on a human scale. He clearly explains the methods and tools he uses to reconfigure unworkable cityscapes into the landscapes he believes they should be: cities for people.

Taking into account changing demographics and changing lifestyles, Gehl emphasizes four human issues that he sees as essential to successful city planning. He explains how to develop cities that are Lively, Safe, Sustainable, and Healthy. Focusing on these issues leads Gehl to think of even the largest city on a very small scale. For Gehl, the urban landscape must be considered through the five human senses and experienced at the speed of walking rather than at the speed of riding in a car or bus or train. This small-scale view, he argues, is too frequently neglected in contemporary projects.
In a final chapter, Gehl makes a plea for city planning on a human scale in the fast- growing cities of developing countries. A “Toolbox,” presenting key principles, overviews of methods, and keyword lists, concludes the book.
The book is extensively illustrated with over 700 photos and drawings of examples from Gehl’s work around the globe.

Still reading this book at present, a lot you will already know, but some more proven work and additional precedents to add to Holly Whytes studies. Venice is an interesting study on Human Scale, speed of traffic and the effects on the sense of place.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

The classic book written by an incredibly observant person, so often books are written from a research angle, with references to just other published work and so the merry go round of knowledge actually improves little, whereas you get people like Jane Jacobs who really observed, talked and listened to those around her and thus get some surprising answers leading to a street view of city life rather than the planners view, that was so prevalent in the late 1950's. We are at present making similar mistakes especially in private silo construction which has no relevance to the surrounding streets that they sit within. Look at the Thames waterside for example. 


Jacobs recommends four pillars of effective city neighborhood planning:
  • To foster lively and interesting streets
  • To make the fabric of the streets as continuous a network as possible throughout a district of potential subcity size and power.
  • To use parks, squares, and public buildings as part of the street fabric, intensifying the fabric's complexity and multiple uses rather than segregating different uses
  • To foster a functional identity at the district level
Jacobs ultimately defines neighborhood quality as a function of how well it can govern and protect itself over time, employing a combination of residential cooperation, political clout, and financial vitality. "A successful city neighborhood is a place that keeps sufficiently abreast of its problems so it is not destroyed by them. An unsuccessful neighbourhood is a place that is overwhelmed by its defects and problems and is progressively more hapless before them."

A blog of interest


All of the books relate to space and how humans respond. Any design, whether a park, city, courtyard garden all need an understanding from a human perspective, plans make look pretty (birds eye view), but gravity and evolution has determined that most of the time we view the world from 1-1.8m and at a speed of 3mph (if we are walking). We need to sit, meet, eat and look (sight being our primary sense), we like to watch others (most popular sport in the world). We love to be near water, in the sun when its cool, in the shade when hot and near nature with all its benefits, but most of all near other people. Our job is to design landscapes that work for the many not the few.

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