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The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

4.27  ·  Rating Details  ·  388 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
In 1980, William H. Whyte published the findings from his revolutionary Street Life Project in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Both the book and the accompanying film were instantly labeled classics, and launched a mini-revolution in the planning and study of public spaces. They have since become standard texts, and appear on syllabi and reading lists in urban plann ...more
Paperback, 125 pages
Published January 31st 1980 by Ingram (first published 1980)
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Oct 15, 2011 Jill rated it really liked it
Shelves: urbanology
Although Whyte's Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was first published in 1980, this book doesn't feel dated at all, reading it some 30 years later. (The exception is the appendix with Whyte's tips on conducting time lapse filming). Just as Simon Garfield's made me take a closer look at the fonts around me, Whyte's book made me look more critically at the urban spaces around me - the plazas, the street corners, the atriums - and to think about whether these were good public spaces or no and what ...more
Jan 27, 2008 Daveycakes rated it really liked it
I'm pretty sure this is just a transcription of the film. That being true, you're better off spending an hour watching it on the tube, where Whyte's humor and insight are a bit more charming and biting.
Dec 21, 2007 Julianne rated it it was amazing
the accompanying documentary is a classic, endearing black and white film about how people interact with structures and public space in cities. both film and book are wonderful.
Aug 11, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it
Clever study, appropriately humble conclusions.
Jun 04, 2015 Andrea rated it really liked it
Truly one of the greats of urban planning, I loved this pivotal look at how you study public space and what you learn from the practice.

Not that it's scintillating reading.

Instead it is steady and deep, and based on actual observation. For instance, their study of the spaces that are most used and where most people sit, after sifting all the evidence they find the one common variable is:
People tend to sit where there are most places to sit.

This may not strike you as an intellectual bombshell, an
Jul 29, 2012 Finlay rated it liked it
Shelves: architecture
Really interesting material, but the format of this book (photos and long paragraphs) makes it tough to pick out the important points.
Some of the information is fascinating, essentially covering the actions of idle people in urban settings and how open space can be designed to influence their behavior; other information is a bit dull or outdated (e.g. the romanticizing of street performers, the photos).

The underlying question of the book (feels like anyways), can cats be herded? Turns out, with proper design, we can.

Given its length (i.e. short), it seems worth the time for anyone with either a passing interest in sociology o
Aug 06, 2011 kathryn rated it it was amazing
picked it up and put it down, flipped through it. wasn't hard to read, i just read it slowly.

His insight into cities and street life is wonderful. then he goes and catalogs it and backs up the observations with data. The book is old-so it is amazing to me that so much poorly thought design and policy still is out there, but oh well.

I like this quote, "It is significant that the cities doing best by their downtowns are the ones doing best at historic preservation and reuse. fine old buildings ar
Dillon Rockrohr
Apr 14, 2013 Dillon Rockrohr rated it liked it
I read this at the recommendation of my friend who's a student of architecture. It constitutes the findings of William Whyte and his crew after their study in the 70s on how people in cities use different types of space. He also offers advice here for how cities should be zoned or what types of installments they should add or take away. It's pretty outdated and more directed at people who are involved in architecture or city planning. It was a little hard for me to get into, but I could draw som ...more
Apr 14, 2011 Brian rated it liked it
Observing people in plazas in Manhattan to understand which aspects of plaza design (think benches, steps, water features, food vendors) make a place successful and which do not. Whyte equates usage with sucess when it comes to public spaces. He uses time lapse photography and direct observations. He makes some concrete findings: where pedestrian flows cut across a sittable space is precisely where most people will try to sit; people tend to self-level crowding so overuse should be much less of ...more
David Wen
Dec 18, 2015 David Wen rated it really liked it
Interesting look into city design and planning. Never knew about the provisions involved to permit a building in a big city and how much functionality of the areas been baked in. Fascinating insight into human behaviors as well.
Vasil Kolev
Feb 22, 2015 Vasil Kolev rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Great (and short book) on the observation of public places in New York and other cities, and what makes them work. Could be said that this is a very good research into the user interface of cities, and opens your mind a bit about city planning and the issues behind it.
Edward Flaherty
Jun 11, 2013 Edward Flaherty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: landscape
The book is summarized in Whyte's video of the same name, available on Vimeo. The work was done in the 1970s. The lessons about the need for seating, mixed use streets, sunlight, food vendors, water, trees and events still hold for Western culture city streets and plazas today.

Most amazing in the film, you can see in plazas and streets across the US, north, south, east and west, a diversity of races and cultures sharing the streets and plazas. What has happened, the question of 2013 needs to be
Feb 07, 2016 Lisa rated it really liked it
A classic understanding of what enlivens urban spaces. The text is easy to read and the black and white photographs support the content.
Sep 02, 2011 James rated it really liked it
Wonderful book, written with a wry sense of humor, about a data-driven study of how people use public spaces. It identifies the elements that make for a well-used and loved outdoor public space. What's interesting is how it opens your eyes to seeing how the makers of plazas tend not to have the same priorities as pedestrians and public-space users, and how that is exemplified when they build these spaces.
Kyle TM
Apr 19, 2014 Kyle TM rated it it was amazing
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LandscapeArchitect Books
Recommended by Tom Turner - author of 'Garden History: Philosophy and Design 2000 BC - 2000 AD' - as one of forty books which - he suggests - every landscape student should have seen. Thanks to the Landscape Information Hub UK.
Apr 04, 2007 christina rated it it was amazing
the photos are really outdated, but the info is really interesting...all about why people are attracted to some places and avoid others. who would have thought that the width of stairs or too few rays of sunlight would deter people from using certain spaces?
Kate F.
Apr 27, 2012 Kate F. rated it it was amazing
FASCINATING. Especially since many featured spaces were part of my life in NYC. Must-read for anyone interested in urban landscapes, why people act the way they do, how effective public spaces should be designed...
Apr 01, 2008 Anna marked it as to-read
Shelves: top-of-the-stack
Another recent addition to my should-read-for-expansion-of-mind list. Everyone please remind me that I need to be reading more non-fiction.
Dec 31, 2008 Bob rated it really liked it
A little dated, but still a helpful examination of what contributes to the success of public spaces.
Rick Smeaton
Jun 18, 2007 Rick Smeaton rated it it was amazing
A must for anyone interested in urban design and how people use and interact in public spaces.
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William Hollingsworth "Holly" Whyte (1917 - 12 January 1999) was an American urbanist, organizational analyst, journalist and people-watcher.
Whyte was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1917 and died in New York City in 1999. An early graduate of St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware, he graduated from Princeton University and then served in Marine Corps. In 1946 he joined Fortune magazin
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