William H. Whyte

Rank: 
9

William H. Whyte (1917-1999) was an American sociologist, journalist, and peoplewatcher.

While working with the New York City Planning Commission in 1969, Whyte began to use direct observation to describe behavior in urban settings. With research assistants wielding still cameras, movie cameras, and notebooks, Whyte described the substance of urban public life in an objective and measurable way.

These observations developed into the "Street Life Project", an ongoing study of pedestrian behavior and city dynamics, and eventually to Whyte's book called City: Rediscovering the Center (1988). "City" presents Whyte's conclusions about jaywalking, 'schmoozing patterns,' the actual use of urban plazas, appropriate sidewalk width, and other issues. This work remains valuable because it's based on careful observation, and because it contradicts other conventional wisdom, for instance, the idea that pedestrian traffic and auto traffic should be separated.

Whyte also worked closely with the renovation of Bryant Park in New York City. He was the author of the restoration plan for Bryant Park in 1980, and contributed to the design of the modern Bryant Park.