Sidewalk Labs unveils app to measure public space use

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Continuing the discussion from Hello Lamp Post:

Quick notes about the app.

CommonSpace is a map-based data collection mobile application that makes it easier to record observations of human activities in open spaces — a method known as public life studies. Public life studies are used to develop a better understanding of how public spaces serve the needs of people and communities.

People who are interested in conducting a public life study — city planners, designers, community groups, etc — can create a study using a web portal for CommonSpace. A study organizer begins by defining their research question, and then configuring the needed observations into the app. Then, they recruit surveyors to conduct the study, who are assigned “shifts” in the public space under study. The surveyors spend time in the space and use the CommonSpace mobile app to record data about what they observe at defined intervals to capture a snapshot of public life activity. CommonSpace implements an open data standard known as the Public Life Data Protocol.

Afterwards, study organizers are able to download the data, and are able select a toggle to post their study and publish the underlying data on a public data portal.

They are Alphabet-backed, so that means somewhere Google has their finger in this. Which means we have to watch them very carefully, and also discover their made-up term: Public Life Data Protocol

Technically, appears to be a geofencing and corresponding survey question builder.

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I’m a huge fan of Gehl and his “human scale” design focus. The documentary of the same name is a revelation. It walks through several projects where they improved spaces after observing how people used the space. One of them was an alleyway in a skyscraper corridor that they then opened up with first-floor shops and cafes! It was a desired route, as well. I’ve volunteered before to collect data in my local area, though sadly it was only a tiny sliver of park and it consisted mostly of people bringing their dogs there to poop.

Wonder if this will make it easier to use the Gehl observational methods instead of paying $$$ fees for their consulting services? Yes, always be wary of Alphabet. Also be wary of hostile architecture and gentrification.

I’m just glad they’re bringing in people that care about people as opposed to some version of the future where everything is digitized. I was at a talk recently where the speaker pointed that out: back when cars were first becoming popular, images imagining the future showed everyone in cars on the road, no people. Same with the depictions of the future with autonomous vehicles, even down to the high turtlenecks the people inside the cars were wearing.