The Social Space Survey was developed to address difficult questions: how can public spaces better serve more people? What role can design play in the process of bringing people together across difference? The tool encourages us to think critically about what’s happening in a space, who’s spending time there, and whether its design and program elements can be improved to foster more openness and inclusion.
For example, the Social Space Survey might help you assess whether a downtown park offers cheap food options for people with limited incomes, accessible pathways for people who use wheelchairs, or summer programming that speaks to the interests of multiple cultural groups across the city. The worksheet helps you develop hunches about the public life of a space, which you can follow up on by engaging with people who spend time there, as well as people who might live nearby but don’t currently feel welcome.
To use the tool, spend time in a public space and observe what’s there. Think about the space’s ability to foster coexistence between different types of people. Next, fill out the survey questions, diagram how the design and programming elements of the space work in relation to each other, and write down your observations.
Of course, inclusivity is a complex topic. What appears as diversity to one person might look very different to someone else. It’s also impossible for every park to suit the needs of every person. But without providing a prescription, we believe the Social Space Survey can kickstart important conversations among designers, planners, and community members based around questions of inclusion, coexistence, and the built environment.
Our public life tools are free for all to download, use, and remix to meet your project’s needs. If you use this tool, we would love to hear from you!