Here at PPS, William Holly Whyte’s legacy continues to inform and inspire our work, from projects with communities to our training sessions and talks. Perhaps less known, though, is his behind-the-scenes influence on our research and methodology. Swapping Holly’s Bolex camera for an iPhone timelapse app, and trilbies for bike helmets, I joined forces with Ethan Kent, Alan Grabinsky, & Elena Madison to record and observe patterns of public space use in New York City.
Our team rode out into the city to document the social life of some not-so-small urban spaces: Times and Herald Squares. So, a rare treat, up close and personal: one recent sunny day’s research here in Manhattan, along with some DIY tips for using contemporary timelapse tech to evaluate public spaces in your own town.
3.) …while I fend off tourists’ inquiries nearby. A word to the wise: while clipboards are a handy form of lo-fi research tech, the air of authority they convey can make it hard to get a day’s work in, especially when surrounded by lost visitors and curious on-lookers!
As Holly Whyte reminds us, “…time lapse does not save time; it stores it,” meaning that the true value of field work comes out of the many hours of image scrutiny, discussion, analysis, and communication of findings. So, while digital technology, new generation tripods, and New York’s bike infrastructure make capturing footage of public spaces a little easier than in Holly’s day, the richness of research lies in the hands of intrepid public space researchers.