Oct 18, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

Green Team Part 20: Outdoors in the Digital World

Green Team Part 20: Outdoors in the Digital World

If William H. Whyte were to complete his urban space study in 2013, would he have the same conclusions?

Courtesy Brad Aaron/Streetsblog

(page 1 of 3)

Looking to the future when designing public spaces, we’re constantly thinking about our growing engagement with the digital. Yet in these times of great changes, we also look at how previous generations responded to their own challenges. Thirty-plus years ago, urbanist William H. Whyte’s seminal book, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, proved that successful public spaces rely on trees, water, art, seating, light—the more of these, the better. He came to these conclusions simply by watching what people do in public spaces, seeing how they interact with their surroundings. Today, we are doing the same thing, but now, we’re thinking about technology and its influence all around us, including our work as landscape designers. In a time of social networking, 4G connections, and Wi-Fi networks, we ask ourselves: How can we keep public spaces relevant?

This is the first in a series of posts that will explore technology as it relates to the evolution of landscape within the built (and unbuilt) environment. Here, we examine our subject in relation to infrastructure and built components in our urban spaces. Subsequent posts will take a look at the various tracks in which technology has influenced our profession--as a design tool to convey ideas realistically and efficiently; and as a medium for enhanced experience through information access in natural spaces.

Are we driven to distraction with our mobile devices?

Courtesy EV Grieve

The interface of landscape and digital technology

When we hear the words, “digital technology” in the context of landscapes, we immediately think of the physical infrastructure related to our mobile devices—“plug-hub” charging stations, outlets in seat walls, and free Wi-Fi. In fact, we already see these physical alterations to the urban landscape, a visible nod to this shift in our culture; this makes us ask: Are we driven to distraction with our iPhones, iPads, and iPods? Or can the capabilities of these devices be used to create a more flexible, adaptive, and experiential use of public spaces?

With constant connection to people and information, digital culture integrated into public spaces has become second nature. So much so that if Whyte were making his urban space study today, he might even include digital technology infrastructure in his recommendations. We think that he would admit, observing today’s street life, that mobile devices have improved communication by and large, as well as the way people communicate with each other.

Oct 18, 2013 08:55 pm
 Posted by  GLehman

The plug-ins are necessary. It is all about accommodating people and their needs and desires. I believe public spaces should be adaptable and continue to change as culture changes. As you look at older public spaces in Europe they evolve. We should be more willing to retrofit and plan to retrofit spaces for the future. Not overdesign it from day one.

I am not a fan of the need for trees, water, etc. It is better to consider what performance are needed versus the elements. Need shelter, activity, rest, etc.

Great blog BTW, miss ya Lisa.

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