I thought I should give you a run-through of what we’ve been working on at CADG in Beijing. Since I arrived, I’ve hopped in on a project that Jasmine had started to work on with a colleague, Yang Huiyi. The project is to profile a thriving urban street that strikes a balance between private and public (commercial and residential, lots of public open space) in Beijing. We’ve settled upon Huangchenngen Relic Site Park, which is a street park (aka a linear, or long straight line of a park that follows a street) fairly close to the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing. This should be a fairly replicable study that could be done in 9 other cities to profile other thriving public spaces – our office Director plans to turn the 10 park reviews into a publishable work down the road. Our two major components of the project are to:
- Develop a site assessment based on quantitative (physical/built environment) data using urban design and social interaction-based criteria with distinct metrics – i.e. walk around the park and give it a score based on if it meets certain urban design standards having to do with safety, accessibility, openness, complexity, etc – the things people tend to like in their parks that can be somewhat quantified.
- Gather data about users of the space and activities done there through a more personal data collection – more on this later.
Then, we pull together these two major elements, do some analysis of how the built environment can support people’s needs and activities, and make some recommendations.
Here are some quick shots of the park, which is in total over 2.5 km long (over a mile, for you non-metrics), so there is a lot of variety in the space, and a lot of different activities. We’ve honed in on just a small portion of the park that would be more manageable for our small study, but these give an idea of the total vibrancy:
The components that we have worked on thus far are developing the system of criteria (how to rank the built environment to show whether it is conducive to safety, activity, etc – Jasmine did most of this), working out a few interview questions for people to ask about their perceptions of the space, mapping the site, taking tons of photos, doing interviews, doing people counts (trying to see which parts of the selected area are most popular and connecting that to the built features).
The component that I’m very excited about is the interviews section of the report. When we had initially discussed the project and report, the plan had been to develop the built environment criteria and an intercept survey. My thought around the intercept survey was that it would be difficult to get enough people who were willing to take a survey, have it translated effectively (i.e. if Jasmine and I worded it very precisely and then had it translated to Chinese it may lose the original connotation of the questions), etc… On top of that, a question I kept asking about our data collection was: WHY? Thanks to Professor Bates, I know to seriously consider the questions we are hoping to answer with data collection before jumping into it. I wanted to make sure that doing a survey was really in our best interest given how much time it would take. Ultimately, I felt that we would be better served with more descriptive, more personal information about how people use the park. When you think about it, given China’s massive population, system of governance, and general collective approach to things, the common theme about data collection being more aggregate-oriented, or focused on the larger sample size, is not surprising. I feel that a narrative-based approach to information collection will give an completely new angle to the project and show that not everyone uses the park the same way. The variety of individuals and their activities may help to reveal the park’s successful elements, which is our ultimate goal. Urban design projects here tend to be MASSIVE, but they ultimately serve human beings – so I hope that this angle of our report helps to humanize that design a little bit.
I proposed that we do several “user profiles” in our report. This way, we would need to ask just a handful of different users to answer a few questions, but allow for the conversation to be more natural. If you’re a fan of Humans of New York, you’ll know the kind of look had in mind. I was thinking we could do a snapshot of the person and a summary of what they had mentioned in their conversational interview: what they were doing in the park, what they like or don’t like about the park, thoughts about the park in general, how often they come there, etc. So far we are still transcribing results of the interviews, but we do have some lovely photos of a wide variety of users, and we’re really excited to include this in the report!
Another part of the project that I’ve spent a ton of time on is mapping our section. We needed the map for our people counts and also just as a reference. Unfortunately, the Google and Baidu maps available for this area are not very detailed, so I’ve walked top to bottom about a million times measuring and drawing out all of the space’s details. It’s about a .5km stretch, I think. For the first few days, I was actually measuring with footsteps, knowing approximately how many centimeters my shoes were. Once I got a measuring tape, I found I was generally accurate enough to hang onto my old measurements, WHEW! Here’s a process image….
Now I am spending time setting up a document in InDesign (my favorite!!! kind of serious) so we can turn all of our collected information from several longgggg days on site (left at 9pm on day, arrived at 7am on another…. and it gets hot out there, people!) into this nice report. Jasmine leaves next week 😦 so we need to make sure we get much of it pulled together with Yang before she goes. And then on to the next project!