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Evaluating sensors for the measurement of public life: A future in image processing


  • Sarah Williams
  • Chaewon Ahn
  • Hayrettin Gunc
  • Ege Ozgirin
  • Michael Pearce
  • Zhekun Xiong


William Whyte, one of the most well-known urban planners, documented hundreds of hours of street life using videos, cameras, and interviews to develop social and physical policy recommendations for cities. Since then, studies of public life have primarily depended on human observation for data collection. Our research sets out to test whether Do-it-Yourself sensor technologies can automate this data collection process. To answer this question, our team embedded sensors in moveable benches and evaluated their performance according to the Gehl Method, a popular guideline that measures public life. During three field tests, we gathered information on public life via several sensors including image capture, location tracking, weight measurement, and other environmental sensing techniques. Ultimately, we determined that analysis derived from image processing was the most effective method for measuring public life. Our research demonstrates that it is possible to use sensors to automate the measurement of public life and highlights the value and precision of using video footage for collecting these data. Since image processing algorithms have become more accessible and can be applied to Do-it-Yourself projects, future work can build on this research to develop open access image processing tools to evaluate and advocate for urban design strategies.

Suggested Citation

  • Sarah Williams & Chaewon Ahn & Hayrettin Gunc & Ege Ozgirin & Michael Pearce & Zhekun Xiong, 2019. "Evaluating sensors for the measurement of public life: A future in image processing," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 46(8), pages 1534-1548, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:envirb:v:46:y:2019:i:8:p:1534-1548
    DOI: 10.1177/2399808319852636

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sarah Williams & Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, 2014. "Industry in Motion: Using Smart Phones to Explore the Spatial Network of the Garment Industry in New York City," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 9(2), pages 1-11, February.
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    3. Todd Litman, 2005. "London Congestion Pricing – Implications for Other Cities," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 3(3), pages 17-21, November.
    4. Ricardo Álvarez & Fábio Duarte & Alaa AlRadwan & Michelle Sit & Carlo Ratti, 2017. "Re-Imagining Streetlight Infrastructure as a Digital Urban Platform," Journal of Urban Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(2), pages 51-64, April.
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