Tools for measuring public life


Gehl Institute

We offer tools that draw on decades of applied research demonstrating how a walkable human scale is part of what makes cities interesting. The public life tools available on this page will help you measure how people use public spaces and better understand the relationship between those spaces and the public life that takes place in them.

Jane Jacobs


Andrew Tuck, The Urbanist, Monocle, 15 December 2016

And really, Jane was the first time where I’d read a critique of cities and it really spoke to me, really resonated, it was incredibly human. It talked about mistakes and failure, it talked about things being imperfect, about things being informal, about the spontaneity, the ballet and dance of life that happens on our city streets.

What is the city but the people?

William Shakespeare, playwright

First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works. 

Jan Gehl, architect

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City


Matt Tyrnauer, Altimeter Films, 2016

Jacobs understood when cities really work they’re phenomena that come from the bottom up. So a great neighbourhood is what happens when thousands of different actors – that’s the shop keepers, bar owners, the people walking the streets – they come together in an uncoordinated, but meaningful way to create the flavour and personality of the distinct neighbourhood. That not ‘planned’, that’s much more a question of organised complexity.

Cities for People


Jan Gehl, Island Press, 2010

Now, after many years, a great deal of knowledge has been amassed on the connection between physical form and human behavior. We have extensive information about what can and should be done. At the same time cities and their residents have become very active in crying out for people-oriented city planning. In recent years many cities in all parts of the world have made a serious effort to realize the dream of better cities for people. Many inspiring projects and visionary city strategies point in new directions after years of neglect.


The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces


William H. Whyte, Project for Public Spaces, 1980

One major finding began to shine through, and I’ll now share it with you. ‘People tend sit where there are places to sit.’ This may not strike you as an intellectual bombshell, but this simple lesson is one that very few cities have ever heeded – they’re tough places to sit in.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces


William H. Whyte, Project for Public Spaces, 1980

It is often assumed that children play in the street because they lack playground space. But many children play in the streets because they like to. One of the best play areas we came across was a block on 101st Street in East Harlem. It had its problems, but it worked. The street itself was the play area. Adjoining stoops and fire escapes provided prime viewing across the street and were highly  functional for mothers and older people. There are other factors at work, too, and had we been more prescient, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time spent later looking at plazas. Though we did not know it then, this block had within it all the basic elements of a successful urban place. 

For more from Project for Public Spaces, the nonprofit organisation founded by William H. Whyte, and the work they are doing around placemaking, click here.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities


Jane Jacobs, Vintage, 1961

Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.​