- Sidewalk Labs has launched CommonSpace, an app that allows users to easily gather data about public life to inform decisions on public spaces.
- The app enables park operators and community organizers to outline what data they want to collect for different spaces — like what areas of a park people tend to gather or play in — and record observations in accordance with the open data standard Public Life Data Protocol. The information can be exported in visualization and analysis tools.
- Sidewalk Labs says the app, developed in partnership with the Gehl Institute and the Canadian charity Park People, will not record personal information and adheres to Privacy by Design principles.
Alphabet-backed Sidewalk Labs positions CommonSpace as an evolution of a data approach that began in the 1960s with Danish urban consultant Jan Gehl, who used real-world observations to make the case for redesigning streets in Copenhagen around pedestrians’ needs. Although there are obvious benefits to knowing how people are using streets, parks and other public spaces, that can require either manual counters or a network of cameras and sensors — time-consuming and expensive options that pose a barrier to accurate data collection.
"Without public life studies, managers are left to steer the design, programming, and maintenance of spaces without full knowledge of what is happening on the ground or what communities need or want," wrote Sidewalk Labs senior software engineer Ananta Pandey in a blog post. CommonSpace is meant to reduce friction to drafting studies. However, it still relies on in-person collection, which Sidewalk Labs determined led to stronger studies that had more local context and encouraged community members to be more actively engaged in planning.
A pilot of CommonSpace this fall measured how programming changes and new cafe seating in Toronto’s R.V. Burgess Park would affect park attendance. Data collected through the app showed a 365% spike in visitors on programming days, including increases in people coming in groups and staying into the evening. Those sorts of insights, Pandey said, can help planners "understand and communicate the impact of their efforts” and enable "participants to learn about their community."
Sidewalk Labs has made public use and pedestrian space a centerpiece of its Quayside smart city pilot project in Toronto. The mixed-use development, set to break ground in 2020, will center around pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure that use adaptive pavement technology to turn streets into public spaces and vice-versa based on need. Other tools like weather-adapting awnings and public art displays are designed to maximize the use of shared public space.