A User Analysis and Place Performance Evaluation

New York City, NY (2005)

Client: The Washington Square Park Council

Washington Square Park is one of the best known and best-loved destinations in New York City. And as a neighborhood park and civic gathering place, it may be one of the great public spaces in the world.

The fountain is a major focal point of activity and a popular gathering place.

In 2005, the Washington Square Park Council asked PPS to conduct an analysis of how Washington Square Park was being used, focusing on how people were using different areas of the park, and how well the current park design and amenities support people’s activities. The analyses included both an online and intercept survey of people in the park, systematic observations, and pedestrian counts at entrances.

The Council enlisted PPS in the study in response to plans developed by the New York City Parks Department to redesign areas of Washington Square Park. The Council used PPS’ findings to illustrate how loved and well-used the park is by the community, and also to demonstrate that when engaged, the community members themselves had many ideas on what could be done to improve Washington Square Park without changing the park’s unique character.

Aerial view of Washington Square Park

In August of 2005, PPS’ observers mapped park use on one weekend and two weekdays, documenting the number of people using the park, which parts of the park were used by different types of people, what activities they engaged in, the level of use of entrances, and use of the park by time of day. PPS also conducted informal observations, recorded the condition of amenities in the park, surveyed a sample of 150 people in the park and posted the survey on-line. The results of the study were presented to the Council and later, to the neighborhood as part of a workshop.

The analysis was designed to better understand the primary uses of the park and the needs of park users. The effort did not poll people on their perceptions or opinions about the proposed redesign of the park. Rather, the surveys were designed to give people an opportunity to talk about what was important to them about the park, and to identify uses and activities that could potentially be incorporated into the future design. The Council also hoped to increase community involvement in the park and elicit ideas for programming.

PPS documented patterns of use within the park - the darker shades represent the busiest areas of activity.

The study generated a number of recommendations for small upgrades that would quickly improve the park’s appearance, as well as the need for an improved management presence in the park. The recommendations were presented to the Council, the Parks Department, and the Arts Commission, which voted to approve the Parks Department plan with several adjustments to the central fountain area based on PPS’ analysis.