9/4/07

BoM September: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

Today, we begin another new series here on TransitMiami.com, our Book of the Month. We’ve started compiling a list of recommended reading on the left sidebar which we’ll be referencing from time to time depending on the book/month. The Book of the month for September is The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, by William Whyte, available for only $33 on Amazon.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, by William Whyte, discusses principles in urban planning and human interaction that if/when applied would be revolutionary in Miami. Given the fact that the book was published in 1980 and was based on findings from his innovative Street Life Project, a study partly incorporated by New York City in the 70's and 80's, you can quantitatively see how far behind Miami really is.

The short 125 page book, tackles the socioeconomic complexities of planning large, useful, urban public spaces. His analysis includes practical issues such as sitting space, atmospheric conditions, street interaction, and even food vending activity and addresses the important balance between each characteristic found in the most successful urban spaces in New York City. The research identifies clear guidelines for foliage, useable sitting space, openness to the public, and importance of such spaces in urban settings.

Upon reading, you’ll soon come to realize the significance of such strict guidelines when designing urban spaces in Miami. Our few public spaces feature blatant design flaws which make them unappealing to visitors, ultimately becoming barren concrete wastelands. The void of public spaces in all our urban areas is even more troubling but can likely be easily justified by the suburban lives we all tend to live. The book even address security harassment issues (I’m familiar with) and methods with dealing with so called “undesirables” in public places, a problem we know all too well along our downtown streets. An excerpt from the introduction:

“But zoning is certainly not the ideal way to achieve the better design of spaces. It ought to be done for its own sake. For economics alone it makes sense. An enormous expenditure of design expertise, and of travertine and steel, went into the creation of the many really bum office building plazas around the country. To what end? As this manual will detail, it is far easier, simpler to create spaces that work for people than those that do not- and a tremendous difference it can make to the life of a city.”

We’ll use the principles outlined in the Social Life of Urban Spaces this month as we incorporate the message of William Whyte into many of our posts. We’ll discuss why two story parking garages behind the AA Arena on parcel B are such a terrible idea and will address the problems of some of the existing urban spaces.

2 Comments:

Richard Layman said...

It's out of print, but this is a smaller piece of the larger book _City: Rediscovering the Center_. You can sometimes come across it in used bookstores.

Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal said...

I purchased a used copy recently...I chose to recommend this one instead of City: Rediscovering the Center because of its easy reading qualities and length...