Studying how people use public space

For ten days, we closely studied how people use public spaces located in seven intersections on University Avenue. We selected intersections that capture different settings. The locations include retail districts, residential neighborhoods, a mix of residential and retail, commercial-office centers, the University of Minnesota campus, and the State Capitol grounds. Each location has been affected by public health policies to decrease the density of people in public places. Furthermore, three of the intersections saw intense activity related to the social uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd, including the installation of murals and protest art as well as property damage. The State Capitol also served as a site for a number of demonstrations during the time period of our study.

Map of seven study locations. Click map to enlarge.

We visited each intersection 14 times, at different times of day, and on every day of the week, from June 18th to 28th. In each visit we took a “snapshot” of activities taking place in the public spaces. We adapted the Gehl Institute’s “activity mapping” tool to document what people were doing and where. We recorded 102 total observations. This enables us to examine patterns and find outliers in people’s activities. We also observed changes in public spaces themselves, which occurred through the spontaneous installation of art pieces, painted primarily on plywood used to board-up the windows and doorways of buildings, marking calls for racial justice. While we did not observe the creation of the art pieces, we examine their messages. A closer look at University Avenue’s street life provides context for understanding how these art pieces shape public space.