Observing People and Prototypes on Market Street

Things I learned at the 2015 Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco

by @stevepepple

Sights at the 2015 Market Street Prototyping Festival. Hashtag #MSPF

“Once we begin observing city life and its interaction with physical surroundings, even the most ordinary street corner can provide interesting knowledge about the interplay of city life and form — anywhere in the world.” — Jan Gehl

Here are some of my observations.

While some of these observations and related anecdotes make common sense, they were remarkably truthful for me and enriched my understanding of Market Street and other public places. I expect to see some of the same findings in the report from SF Planning, and I’ll make sure to check my assumptions with their data and analysis.

People engage on Main Street when they have time and space.

The most striking realization I had is that neighbors and acquaintances too often pass Market Street like ships in the night without connecting with one another. The street is the intersection of several populace neighborhoods, and is too often a place of transit where people simply pass through, as artist Sameena Sitabkhan said in the SF Chronicle.

Six neighborhoods intersect with Market Street

People notice changes on the block from afar and become curious.

People stop on the street to look at ‘weird’ art, of course, but I also talked with several people who saw the festival preparations and activity from their office or apartment window and wanted to see what was happening.

People are attracted to other people and activities.

This fairly obvious, but we too often take it for granted. Once people stop to notice new things, they interact with strangers and attract other people.

People of all ages are willing play; They just need a good excuse.

For example, I watch people young and old climb on the Three for Life prototype. I was taken by surprise at how much fun people had just sitting on an oversized table and chair. (I should mention that they were also encouraged to climb by a oversize jar of sun-warmed chocolate chip cookies.)

People are more willing to linger after lunch than during rush hour.

Time of day, weather, light, and shade play an important role in how people behave on the street. I enjoyed seeing the lifecycle of the street on a weekday. Both during and after the festival, people were more leisurely and interactive during the lunch hour and sunny afternoon hours.

Example of how shade alone results in microclimates at Civic Center at the 9am, 12pm, 3pm, and 5pm hours.

People are more willing to linger in public space, when they know where they are.

Many people would ask festival volunteers and prototype makers for directions. Once they found their way, they would often stick around.

People are discouraged from interacting with places and object that seem too nice.

I noticed that some prototypes didn’t receive attention from people because they seemed to nice to sitting or touching. People said they were afraid to damage the prototype or didn’t know that they were allowed to.

Co-founder of Vibemap. I write about data, cities, transit, and local government. https://vibemap.com/

Co-founder of Vibemap. I write about data, cities, transit, and local government. https://vibemap.com/