Unrealized Potential

Most of the people who use plazas, we found, are young office workers from nearby buildings. There may be relatively few patrons from the plazas own building: as some secretaries confide, they‘d just as soon put a little distance between themselves and the boss. But commuter distances are usually short; for most plazas. the effective market radius is about three blocks. Small parks, like Paley and Greenacre in New York, tend to have more assorted patrons throughout the day—upper—income older people, people coming from a distance. But office workers still predominate, the bulk from nearby.

This uncomplicated demography underscores an elemental point about good urban spaces: supply creates demand. A good new space builds a new constituency. It stimulates people into new habits—al fresco lunches—and provides new paths to and from work, new places to pause. It does all this very quickly. In Chicago’s Loop, there were no such amenities not so long ago. Now, the plaza of the First National Bank has thoroughly changed the midday way of life for thousands of people. A success like this in no way surfeits demand for spaces; it indicates how great the unrealized potential is.

William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980)

Streetlife, William “Holly” Whyte in his own words.




A comparison with the speech act will allow us to go further and not limit ourselves to the critique of graphic representations alone, looking from the shores of legibility toward an inaccessible beyond. The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered. At the most elementary level, it has a triple “enunciative” function: it is a process of appropriation of the topo­graphical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting-out of language); and it implies relations among differentiated positions, that is, among prag­matic “contracts” in the form of movements (just as verbal enunciation is an “allocution,” “posits another opposite” the speaker and puts con­ tracts between interlocutors into action).  It thus seems possible to give a preliminary definition of walking as a space of enunciation. (…) The modalities of pedestrian enunciation which a plane representation on a map brings out could be analyzed. (…) Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc., the trajectories it “speaks.”

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (1980)


Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking (1967)