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Exploring Public Space through Users' Behavior

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Ahmad Abu-Khalaf

on 8 April 2014

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Transcript of Exploring Public Space through Users' Behavior

Exploring Public Space through
Users' Behavior

This CSBE study on public spaces in Amman concentrated on three streets that the Greater Amman Municipality rehabilitated to facilitate pedestrian activity: Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman, Wakalat Street in Sweifieh, and Culture Avenue in Shmeisani.
The CSBE study of the three streets concentrated on how the public uses them. Visits were carried out at various times of the day and various days of the week during the summer period, when they are at their busiest. The streets and the activities taking place in them were documented through photographs and drawings, and interviews were carried out with the people visiting them.
Behavioral Patterns Among Public Space Users
Factors That Affect the Behavior of Public Space Users

Safety and accessibility of shops

Rainbow Street is an older commercial street that used to house a number of Amman’s high-end commercial establishments during the 1960s.

The “Rainbow Street Urban Regeneration Project” was designed by a team led by Rami Daher, Turath - Architecture & Urban Design Consultants for the Greater Amman Municipality. Construction work on the project was completed in 2008.
Aim of the Study
The aim of this CSBE study is to observe the behavioral patterns of users of public spaces to find out if these spaces are functioning successfully; to explore how well they are maintained; and to convey information about them to decision makers.

The methodology for this study was developed by CSBE's Associate Director Lara Zureikat. This first phase of the study was carried out by three architectural interns from the Jordan University of Science and Technology: Ruba Abu al-Haija, Dana Elfar, and Saja Hazaimeh, who worked under the supervision of CSBE staff members Mohammad al-Asad, Lara Zureikat, Joud Khasawneh, and Nur al-Fayez.
Two main groups of behavioral patterns are evident in these three public spaces
Group 1: Socially-acceptable behavioral patterns:

Playing music, skating, walking, and sitting.

Group 2: Socially-disruptive behavioral patterns:

Car cruising, harassing, vandalizing public property, and littering.

Socially-Acceptable Behavioral Patterns in These Three Public Spaces

Playing music
Socially-Disruptive Behavioral Patterns That Take Place in These Three Public Spaces
How well do these spaces enhance the activities taking place in them?

How well are these spaces designed?

How inclusive are these spaces?
How well are these spaces
designed for children?

How well are these spaces
designed for the disabled?

General Observations
Maintenance and upkeep

These streets are witness to the abysmal level of maintenance and upkeep from which Amman’s public spaces suffer.
Impact on the surrounding urban context

None of these projects seems to have examined how they would impact traffic. This is surprising considering that once an area is developed into a destination, it will attract a great deal of vehicular traffic. Such traffic impacts are most particularly evident in Rainbow Street, where traffic leading into it during the evenings may be clogged a few kilometers back, as far as the Third Circle.
Social tension

Public spaces in Amman unfortunately are places characterized by considerable social tension, and there do not seem to be any commonly-agreed upon codes of conduct among their users. What many may consider objectionable behavior, others find totally acceptable.
Young skaters use ramps and street furniture for skating purposes since there are no dedicated skating facilities in Culture Avenue. Also, Culture Avenue is surrounded by a vehicular street and is therefore unsafe for skating. As a result, a socially-acceptable behavioral pattern has become a socially-disruptive one.
Wakalat Street is the most successful of the three. Pedestrians can easily move from one side of the street to the other without worrying about traffic.
Culture Avenue is the least successful of the three. Although beautifully designed into seven segments that include an art gallery, an outdoor theater, and landscaped zones, it is an isolated pedestrian zone surrounded by a street. Moreover, the buildings along that street contain very few shops, which play an important role in attracting visitors. There are a few small kiosks in Cultural Avenue that originally were intended to sell books, but these are not enough to attract a significant amount of pedestrian activity. They all have ended up functioning as low-end convenience stores.
In Wakalat Street, shop owners have resented and sometimes prevent young men from using steps or sidewalks in front of or next to their shops for sitting.

They even had pressured the Amman municipality to remove the benches that originally were part of the pedestrianized street. Accordingly, people now only have two seating options: sitting in a restaurant or a coffee shop, or sitting on the street’s sidewalks and the stairs located along it.

Culture Avenue
Car cruising
The presence of female pedestrians attracts roaming bands of young men who cruise in their cars with the music blasted, often shouting rude comments to attract the attention of the females. This is particularly evident in Rainbow Street, where the sidewalks are extremely narrow, and vehicular movement is allowed uninterrupted. In Culture Avenue, where a vehicular street surrounds a 360-meter long, 15-meter wide pedestrian island, young men recklessly cruise around this island in their cars.
In contrast, Wakalat Street is an exclusively pedestrian street. Once one navigates its congested surroundings and makes it to the street, the feeling is that of reaching an oasis after moving in the desert. Also, the fact that young men cannot cruise there with their cars means that harassment levels go down significantly.
One way of assessing the success or failure of such projects is to observe the degree to which they reinforce and improve upon previously existing urban functions there, whether residential or commercial. In the case of Wakalat Street, a commercial street has been made a more pleasant space in which to shop.
In the case of Rainbow Street, however, a residential area has been viciously decimated. Because of traffic congestion, noise, and crowds, its residents are finding life there unbearable, and are beginning to move out.
At the other extreme, Culture Avenue has failed to attract the public over time. It consequently has been deteriorating, and, because of the lack of maintenance and supervision, parts of it have become an eyesore, primarily attracting rowdy skaters.

Of the three spaces presented in this study, Wakalat Street is the safest for children since it is not accessible to vehicles. It also has two controlled access points.

Rainbow Street is the least disabled-friendly public space out of the three spaces. Vehicular circulation and pedestrian circulation greatly interconnect. Additionally, sidewalks are not wide enough and are not designed for wheelchairs. They lack the needed ramps and their tiling makes it difficult for wheelchairs to move on them.

In the case of Culture Avenue, there are no access points that are designated for persons with disabilities. It is a median that is raised above street level, without a drop off area, and it is surrounded by a vehicular street. Ramps are included in the design, yet some areas are only accessible through stairs.

Wakalat Street is the most disabled-friendly public space of the three spaces. Vehicular circulation and pedestrian circulation do not interconnect. There is adequate space for wheelchairs and pedestrians, and the tiling used is suitable for wheelchairs.

Rainbow 101: The comedian as urban critic
Watch this six-minute video in which Jordanian comedian Raja'i Qawwas comments on people's behavior in one of Amman's most frequented streets.
Watch this five-minute video on the three public spaces that was filmed by CSBE interns Ruba Abu al-Haija, Dana Elfar, and Saja Hazaimeh.
A study carried out by the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) in the summer of 2011
The presence of a critical mass of shops along such streets and the direct accessibility of these shops to pedestrians is crucial to their success.
In Rainbow Street, shops do line the street on both sides, but crossing the street to get from one side to the other means going through a never-ending stream of traffic.
In the case of Culture Avenue, it is a pedestrian island, but a vehicular street surrounds it.
Of the three, Cultural Avenue is in the worst shape. Vandalism, graffiti, and littering have damaged what once was a very elegant space.
Rainbow Street had a few sculptural glass prisms at its entrance. The glass has been shattered, and the pieces of broken glass have yet to be removed.

Some of the signage developed for the street has fallen apart.

Wakalat Street has fared better than the other two. This is partly because it only consists of paved surfaces and some trees.
Culture Avenue started as a non-descript 360-meter Street during the 1980s, and is located in the heart of Amman's banking district.

The refurbishment of Culture Avenue was designed by the Amsterdam-based Tom Postma Design, in cooperation with the Engineering Department of the Greater Amman Municipality. Construction work on the project was completed in August 2002.
Wakalat Street is a newer commercial street that primarily evolved during the 1990s, and has attracted a number of fashionable clothing stores.

The “Urban Pedestrianization of Wakalat Street” project was designed by Rami Daher, Turath - Architecture & Urban Design Consultants for the Municipality of Greater Amman. Construction work on the project was completed in 2007.
Diagram showing the gathering of skaters in Culture Avenue.
Note: The Greater Amman Municipality re-opened Wakalat Street to vehicular traffic in August 2013.
Thank You
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