Announcing the Public Life Data Protocol

A collaboration with Gehl, the Municipality of Copenhagen, and the City of San Francisco

If you’re familiar with the work of Jan Gehl, you probably know his saying that we should “measure what we care about.” In the case of cities, it’s important to not just measure car traffic or property values, but also the activities of people in public space. By tangibly capturing how people relate to their urban environments, we believe the physical design of cities can better suit the needs and desires of their populations.

Gehl’s decades of research and teaching have led many practitioners to incorporate people-centered metrics into their engineering models, investment decisions, and design choices. In fact, these methods have now been applied in over 250 cities around the world by the Gehl practice, and in many other cities by public agency staff, unaffiliated designers, and graduate students. Yet because so many people collect data and use them for different reasons, the data sets are often incompatible, difficult to understand, and challenging to scale in more places.

Soon, this process will be a lot easier.

We’re pleased to announce that Gehl Institute, in close partnership with the Gehl practice, the Municipality of Copenhagen, and the City of San Francisco, has developed a Public Life Data Protocol to standardize collection and storage of data about people in public space. 

The open protocol will create a common language for cities to compare different spaces within their city limits, and to then compare their data with other cities. By making the protocol open, we also hope to lower the barrier to entry for any cities, agencies, practitioners, or students who seek to utilize the public life tools. A common language brings us that much closer to achieving our goal of making people more visible (to policymakers, designers, and planners) in public space.

To start, we’re internally reviewing the beta protocol with our partners. Its official launch date is Fall 2017. You can check back here for updates on how we’ll be releasing data sets and organizing events. Let’s learn from one another metrics that can improve the public spaces we share.