How to Study Public Life book review

How to Study Public Life: Methods in Urban DesignHow to Study Public Life: Methods in Urban Design by Jan Gehl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought this was going to be a methods book on Public Life studies. And it is, but that is only a small part of the book. There is description of the goals and process of public life study, and a set of case examples of how certain methods were used in actual public spaces around the world. I wish there was more detail here and more description of how many people were involved in various aspects and what some of the common pitfalls of this research tend to be. That would have made this a better methods book.

The rest of the book is occupied with celebrating and recounting the career of co-author Jan Gehl. There is an unexpected though interesting literature review of public life studies starting with Jane Jacobs up until about 2012. Each scholar and many of their books get individual treatment here with regard to their contribution to the field and where they expand on past scholars’ work. If you are interested in diving into this field, this is a go to resource.

All in all, it’s an odd book bringing together a lot of loose ends that it seems like Jan Gehl and his co-author Birgitte Svarre had been meaning to publish. The book is beautifully designed and an accessible read; I just wish it spent more time on the “how” in the title.

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