THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CITIES: Neuroscience and urban planning
More than three decades ago, New York City asked pioneering urbanist William Whyte to unravel the mysteries of public space. Why do some such spaces attract crowds of happy visitors while others remain barren and empty?
Conducted with stopwatches, time-lapse videography, and simple paper charts, Whyte’s research was a spectacular success. Based on this findings, he made a series of common-sensical and easily implemented recommendations, which the city soon incorporated into its municipal construction codes.
Whyte suggested that the way to build a psychologically healthy city lay in careful observation, collection of clear data, and willingness to challenge preconceptions. Whyte’s book on The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, and the short film based on this work, remain fresh and insightful today. They still are required reading and viewing for any student of urban life.
If Whyte’s fundamental guidelines for urban field research remain current, it is also true that new technologies are now available to those who study the workings of the urban realm. Now we can go well beyond simple observations of the overt behavior of city dwellers. We can look inside the bodies and minds of those who inhabit urban spaces.
To explore the old and new techniques of urban field research, see this article from The Guardian, which includes a short video of innovative urban methodologies.