"There are so many people here!” are a few words you have inevitably uttered or thought of when spending time outdoors in any city during the hot summer months. But have you ever considered how many people are ‘many people’? In order to address this seemingly simple but key question that is essential to understanding public life, Martin Månsson set out on a quest to count people spending time outdoors in 19 different European city centers of comparable size, observing a total of 112,622 people as part of this project. Subsequently, he compared the number of people in each city center and was able to develop a framework to quantify the demographic make-up of public life. His data allowed him to construct public life values (the composite of all observed cities) such that it represents a reference against which other cities of similar size can be compared.
The data collected by Martin addresses three overarching questions concerning any city of similar size to the ‘average city’. These are:
Are there many people on the main shopping street? (Answer: 1,5%)
Are there many people spending time outside? (Answer: 1,37%)
Are there many people on this spot? (Answer: depends!).
These questions enable putting a number of expressions such as “too many” and “too few”.
The cities that were studied have a population ranging from 80,000 to 180,000 and are all located in central, western, or northern Europe. There are about 200 such cities in this area, suggesting that the observations obtained in this project may be of great value to understanding the public life of about 8% of the northern, western, and central European population, which hosts a total of about 28 million people. One goal of addressing these questions is to help medium-sized cities create better public spaces for everyone, by providing them with an empirical model of comparison to support decision making concerning the development of livelier city centers.
Read more and dive deeper into the numbers for more observations and answers to questions you might have posted about your own city.
Martin Jan Månsson