top of page

Why Don’t People Hang Out Here?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Use this tool to help triangulate why

Photo by Budgeron Bach from Pexels

I think all the cool urbanists, the famous planners, and the starchitects create some sort of score, formula, or method of measurement to help tell a story.

Walk Score by Jesse Kocher and Matt Lerner. Jan Gehl's door score. Count something, use basic math, there’s your score. Low number bad. High number good. It helps you be persuasive and market your ideas. It’s so intuitive that some cities are even starting to use these scores to help them evaluate which projects they want in their town.

The walk score and door score are specific to walkability. I wondered is there a way to measure, guess, estimate why some public spaces work and others don’t?

Over the last year, I’ve been studying the changing patterns in my town. Never before have we lived in a time when activity went to 0. And then slowly started working its way back.

From Zero To Activity

I use the word triangulate in the subtitle because there could be a lot of reasons. I got hung up on movement.

April 2020 No one was on the trails, sidewalks, or parks in my town. It could be the weather, could have been COVID, maybe people weren’t stir crazy yet…

May 2020 The trails, parks, and sidewalks were busier than I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood.

June/July 2020 Restaurants started converting parking spaces to outdoor seating. Cities start converting extra road space to bike lanes.

Disclaimer I know. I know. There are so many factors that are affecting this timeline. Global pandemic and weather patterns are the first two. But I started to wonder about movement through space.

No one wanted to sit on my main street before. Now they’re happy too. I would describe the parks and trails in my town as used by a dedicated few. Now I’ve never seen them busier. I’m actually running into other people I know and we’re stopping to chat.

How Long Before We Regress To The Mean?

What lifestyle changes will stay in place? Why do people hang out in certain places rather than others?

Cars use is coming back. In fact, even though we drove less in 2020 it was more dangerous. Expect that to continue.

Was car use the reason the activity changed the way it did? Does the way people move through space affect how it gets used? I think so. I know so? But I can’t prove it.

Or can we?

Measure A Space’s Experience Velocity

Average experience velocity

For every person in the space take the speed they’re traveling at then average it.

If someone is sitting at a cafe table, their experience velocity is 1.*

I say 1 because they had to get there somehow. But more specifically we want to account for people being there. Zero could imply zero people. We want to put a value there. The slowest you can experience a space is sitting or standing still.

On the opposite side. Someone driving by in a car at 70 would have an experience velocity of 70.*

Measure it

Look around and count the people and estimate their speed. 1 — ?. Then take all the numbers divided by the number of people. Boom. Experience Velocity. Experience Velocity is like a golf score. The lower the better.


If I look around and I see 3 people sitting at a table talking, 1 person walking their dog, 2 people on bikes, and 4 cars drove by at posted speed limit of 25. The experience velocity of that space is 12. Estimating that sitting = 1, walking =3, biking =7, car speed limit = 25. 120/10 = 12.*

If I look around a space and I see 1 person walking on the sidewalk and count 25 cars going by at 45, 1 at walking speed= 3, 25 at car speed limit = 45. Experience velocity = 43.*

Across Time

Activity in space is different at different times. Experience velocity is a point in time measurement. But if you measured every hour, you could have a line graph that shows experience velocity across time for any particular space.

Experience conflict

The worse places to be are when you mix all the different velocities together.

There are many reasons why a cafe doesn’t set up tables on the shoulder of a highway, one of them is because no one would sit there. It’s difficult to sit back and enjoy my beverage of choice when a car whips by 85.*

To measure experience conflict score take the same data set you collected when measuring experience velocity and take your max velocity and subtract it from your minimum velocity. The result is your experience conflict score.

The bigger the number the less likely that space is able to serve multiple purposes. And in an urban environment, where the goal is to build density, you want to, need to, be able to serve multiple purposes.

A place with high experience velocities or velocity conflict, in my personal experience, will not have many people hanging out but going through. And now we can make it measurable.

This is not a perfect system, yet. It might never be. But I want to make it better. If you use this in your town or city, let me know. Let’s build a database of experience velocities and experience conflicts.

*I left out units of measure on purpose. You can use miles per hour. Kilometers per hour. Your choice.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page