The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design

Timelapse in Times Square: Tips From the Field

Natalia Radywyl
Nov 20, 2012
Jan 9, 2018

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.

1.) Seen here at the TKTS booth overlooking Times Square, our timelapse tech set-up: the Gorillamobile monkey tripod and iPhone, a 21st century public space researcher’s best friends...

2.) Ethan and Elena go low-tech, multi-tasking on the ground with cameras & notepads, as captured here for the world on a Times Square interactive jumbotron...

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!


4.) A little teamwork and some creative bike re-purposing  go a long way when rigging cameras...


5.) …and recent yoga classes seem to come in handy too..

6.) Success!


7.) Always at the cutting edge of tech innovation at PPS, we found this solution to battery shortage when shooting day-long timelapse. We call it: "the rubber band."

8.) Although down on the ground, we still do some things the Holly Whyte way: pain-staking behavior mapping on the hour, observation and note-taking.

9.) As the day drew to a close, it was time for a pit stop in the Control Room.

10.) With slices of Manhattan in our pockets, time to scoot back to Headquarters where the real work begins: evaluation.

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.

Natalia Radywyl
Natalia Radywyl
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The Key to Safe Streets: Five Cities Humanizing Street Design