As US society becomes more polarized between rich and poor, and cities grapple with the strains of economic inequality, public space remains a place where people with mixed backgrounds and incomes can come together. Diversity and serendipity is core to our cities’ economic competitiveness, civility, and democracy. But the only tool planners and advocates have to talk about inequality and social mixing is census information based on where people live– not where they spend their time. If we care about social mixing in public space, why don’t we have the tools to measure it?
We prototyped a set of tools to identify where social mixing is happening, and the types of design and programming cues that invite these interactions. Our goal is to create a new way of seeing the city that helps communities and civic leaders advocate for places that invite for social mixing.
We framed our objectives with three questions that we applied to test sites:
1. Do people from different socioeconomic groups spend time in this place?
2. Are people having spontaneous social encounters in this space? Do people recognize their neighbors and other “familiar strangers” in this place?
3. If yes, what prompted these social interactions?
Defining socioeconomic status
Measure public space- building facade activity
Measure public life- conducting intercept survey
We investigated these three questions using three different tools that build on the Gehl methodology:
1) Intercept interviews capture nuanced information from a small group of people about who they are demographically, and if they meet to new people in the public space;
2) Observational analysis shows who is socializing in a space at one given point in time
3) our Census for City Streets tool uses Instagram to determine the geographic mix of a place at any point in time.
Used together, these tools create a portrait of the social mixing happening in place. This project was a prototype for a future tool, and we look forward to refining our methods and creating a tool accessible to community groups and civic leaders. Gehl is continuing to refine our methods by testing them on experiments initiated by Institute, as well as instigations initiated by partner organizations.