Urban space observation in Prague

Photo of piazza

In looking for examples of visual methods in action I came across this study by Temelová and Novák in the online journal Visual Studies. Here the authors reflect on their experiences of undertaking a ‘micro-scale’ investigation of neighbourhood life in a regeneration area of central Prague. Focusing on ‘structured observation’ methods and a variety of visual recording and reporting techniques (including photography, mapping and spatial diagrams) this study might potentially offer a useful test model for examining daily-life/everyday interactions between people and public art in NewcastleGateshead, or at least some starting points for considering how such work might be carried out.

In their study Temelová and Novák bring together a number of interesting threads or ideas in the consideration of public space, which may help me to think about the context in which public art works are encountered:

  • (Marinotti, 2005) categorisation of city users e.g. as inhabitants, commuters, service users, business people
  • (Gehl, 1989) streetscapes as a stage or ‘scene of action’ for necessary activity (e.g. shopping, waiting for a bus, walking to work), optional activity (e.g. strolling, looking, resting), or social activity (e.g. play, conversation)
  • (Lefevbre, 2004) daily rhythms of public space, including people, traffic, commercial activity, sounds and smells.

The article goes into quite a high level of detail about the researcher’s observational techniques, which involved the setting up of three ‘observation stands’ which were visited by the research team three times a day for one hour each, at fixed times morning, lunchtime and early evening, on weekdays only from July-September 2008.

Map location of observation stands

Diagrams of observation stands

The scene was then observed four times (4×10 min slots) during each hour. Researchers used forms to record or ‘code’ people and their activity within specifically defined physical areas within the space. People were recorded in three main categories based solely on what could be ascertained from their physical or outward appearance: socio-economic (e.g. managers, workers, homeless people); ethnic group (e.g. gypsies); demographic (e.g. the elderly, teenagers, or parents with small children); or as ‘other’ e.g. tourists. Activity was recorded under two main categories: ‘passing through’ or ‘spending time’.

Jana Temelová & Jakub Novák (2011): Daily street life in the inner city of Prague under transformation: the visual experience of socio-spatial differentiation and temporal rhythms, Visual Studies, 26:3, 213-228
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