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Cities and their psychology: how neuroscience affects urban planning

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More than 30 years ago, the pioneering urbanist William Whyte was charged by the city of New York with the task of unraveling the mysteries of public space. Why do some such spaces attract crowds of happy visitors whilst others sit barren and empty?

Whyte's research programme, conducted with stopwatches, time-lapse videography, and lots of simple paper charts, was a spectacular success. Based on his findings, he made a series of simple and easily implemented recommendations that the city soon codified into its municipal construction codes.
Today, any visitor to New York might find any number of things to complain about but the wide availability and attractive human affordances of the city's many public spaces is not likely to be among them. Whyte's epiphany was that the way to answer important questions about how to build a commodious and psychologically healthy city lay in careful observation, collection of data and the creative ability to lay aside preconceptions and view a streetscape with a "beginner mind".


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