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Sidewalk Labs’ new app helps designers and planners study how public spaces are used

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CommonSpace allows people to conduct surveys about public space usage and organize those results

Woman using app in park Photo by David Pike / Sidewalk Labs

How did urban planners know to stick a bench in your favorite corner of the park you frequent? Most likely by old-school observation—paper, clipboard, and hours of tracking how people move around a space.

Many urban spaces are little understood, if only because it’s hard to get a grasp on how humans interact with parks, squares, and other public gathering places without dedicating serious manpower to study it.

Screenshot of app interface Photo by David Pike / Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has come up with a very 21st-century solution, though. The company recently introduced a new app called CommonSpace that allows people to conduct surveys about public space usage and then organize those results.

Surveyors can enter anonymized information about a specific urban space, be it park or plaza, and share how they’re moving around (e.g. if they’re sitting or standing, what furniture they’re using, what areas they eat in or tend to avoid). Ultimately, the crowdsourced data is meant to paint a clearer picture of how a place is being used and help create more thoughtfully designed public spaces.

For city planners, designers, community groups, and others interested in surveying public spaces, the app is now available on Android and iOS.