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A Penn Press Intern’s Connection to Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center

One of our interns, Lauren Springer, has a personal research connection to the forthcoming re-release of City: Rediscovering the Center by William H. Whyte. In this post, Springer describes her experience working with some of Whyte's original research materials.

I was excited to see that this season Penn Press is publishing William Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center. Last summer, I was lucky enough to work with Professor Keith Hampton at the Annenberg School for Communication, conducting research for “Social Interaction in Public Spaces: A Longitudinal Study.” This ongoing study is attempting to make a cross-temporal comparison of the behavior of people in the 1970s and 2000s, focusing on how new technology affects the way people interact in public spaces. William Whyte used time lapse films of cities around the world to capture the behavior of people in urban spaces and the traffic flow of city streets.

As a research intern last summer, I worked to convert hundreds of Whyte’s original film reels from 8mm film

to digital format, finding Whyte’s own hand-written notes attached to many films. I am continuing my research this summer to finish the conversion to digital formatting and design a coding scheme to help us evaluate the content of the films. In an effort to create direct contemporary comparisons against Whyte’s original videos from the 70s and 80s, I have accompanied Professor Hampton’s research team to New York City to videotape in the same locations as Whyte. For more information about Hampton’s research, see his personal website.

In City: Rediscovering the Center, Whyte makes use of these same notes and films to draw conclusions about the behavior of people in late 20th century urban settings. As a city planning consultant, he made “people-watching” his modus operandi as he tried to answer why people choose to sit on steps instead of ledges and why city plazas are designed the way they are. I am looking forward to reading Whyte’s book and understanding his conclusions, based on the research I am in the process of replicating.

Lauren Springer is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), and a summer marketing and publicity intern for Penn Press. City: Rediscovering the Center by William H. Whyte with a foreword by Paco Underhill will be available from booksellers soon.