Mapping Time and Public Space

Public space is an extremely important component to a healthy city. A public space such as a park or plaza can become a hotspot for various gatherings, demonstrations (political, religious, etc.), socialization, relaxation, shelter, safety. Many times the personal and collective claims to these spaces can collide, different interests and uses of the area mold the space in to a shared experience with layered meanings for different groups, begging the question, how does space become place? For my final project I will be looking at mapping human rights in public space and public space as a human right as humans transform space in to place. Because public space is constantly affected by different interests and factors, in my map critique I wanted to take a look at how time can play a role in how a space and its uses in a community can change or be affected by time/perceived time. I have been focusing on an article written by one of my professors, Peter Lucas, in which he explores questions like where are the nodal points of a city where human rights are crystallized? Where do concentrations of violations occur? What set of needs do we elicit from a public space? Who needs what and how do these interests compete? How does public space transform at different times and for what reasons? What are the layers of time in a space, and do they come from different perspectives of people or maybe different uses/engagements in the space?

To put these questions in to action, I looked at Google Street View’s option of viewing photos of the place throughout years. The format of this “time map” is simply a horizontal line with dots along it where there are photos that Street View has captured each year or whenever they passed through, much like a timeline. The reading on temporal modeling that we did for this week has vocabulary that J.T. Fraser used to systematically examine the ways in which time is understood from various disciplinary perspectives. I think that Google, and most of the Western world for that matter, use what he refers to as eotemporality. This is the rational progression of events in a sequence. (Drucker)

This approach makes sense here because time is such an abstract concept that the idea of mapping it can be quite confusing and subjective. By simplifying it to be a simple timeline they invite the viewer to show how a certain place has changed or grown over time, trying to make it as objective as possible. I looked at a street in my neighborhood that had been turned from a street into a plaza in front of the Myrtle Wyckoff train station and saw how it was transformed from a road to a public space where several activities went on. And as I looked deeper, I realized that Google could be more careful about creating such objectivity in the change of a space because people have different connections to it and relations to that space in time and the way in which they engage with it that may alter their meaning of “changing over time”.

For my own application I decided to try and make a similar sort of timeline of the same area but for one day rather than years. I took photos at different hours, from morning until night time, and (as I lack the capacity to make a design like Google’s where you can click on a year and see a photo) I lined them up in order to show how this public space changed from day to night.

I think this is an interesting way to show how a place grows and shrinks throughout the day and a good way to map time because if anything, we can all relate to night and day time even though we may experience them all differently. However, I wanted to take it a step further in terms of human rights and public space and map the subjectivity of experiencing time in a space. I therefore decided to also make a corresponding map for one of the time periods where I sat for an hour and people watched to see how they engaged with the space. This was the hour in which tables and chairs that had been put away overnight were brought out, and the space drastically changed from a “passing through space” to more of a destination and meeting place.

I tracked how people used the space throughout the hour and realized how layered and complex the area really was, more than Street View could ever hope to capture in passing by and attempting to visualize the space through time objectively. It is important to not try to objectify a space because to a community or even to a couple of people that space can be a place for many uses.  By acknowledging the layers and subjectivity and perspectives on a public area and mapping how it changes over time and how people use their time there, cities can better understand what its citizens need and how space can be improved to give people mobility, shelter, freedom of speech, and other human rights that can be achieved through public space.