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.