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Understanding how public spaces works is always challenging as it is crucial for creating places for people. Nowadays, I believe that it is getting more important in over-crowded cities. Some of these public spaces are inevitably used by people since they are located in the city’s major focal points.

Kadikoy Rihtim Square, Istanbul Source: Author

And some cases show even the physical conditions of space not supporting the activities; it seems people are just finding new ways to use these poorly designed public spaces, at least this is the current situation at the most important public spaces in Istanbul nowadays. Therefore, it is crucial to understand people’s behaviours to provide the right physical conditions.

In this context, behavioural mapping is a handy method because it allows relating activities with physical features (Cosco et al., 2010). At the 1970s, Ittelson et al. developed the behavioural mapping method in the field of behavioural psychology. This method also is used in the field of urban design to understand how people’s behaviour is affected by the physical attributes in public spaces. It can be said that William H. Whyte and Jan Gehl achieved most of their findings by using this method.

        Hand-made behavioural map Source: Golicnik (2005)

Executing behavioural mapping is simple because the observer can get a map of the area and mark every activity that occurs in the place. This method is usually used for capturing stationary activities such as standing and sitting, but I noticed some practitioners are also adding walking activity to these maps as a point feature.  Every map demonstrates a picture of the moment at any given place (Gehl and Svarre, 2013). It is easy to see where people choose to sit or stand in place with these maps. When these maps are produced at different times of day, seasons of the year also it can be understood how activities have been affected by light and shadow, microclimate etc. It provides empirical knowledge about any place, and this knowledge can lead designers to provide the proper physical conditions for people.

I think there are a few opportunities for improving this method with advancements in technology. First of all, geographical information systems (GIS) is perfectly suitable for this method because it relates any given data to spatial features.

       GIS based behavioural map of Bristo Square Source: Golicnik Marusic (2011)

In the context of understanding the relationship between activities and physical attributes of public space, the real advantage of GIS is the database. “GIS database offers a transparent examination of places through different combinations of behaviour pattern attributes, e.g. the type of activity, gender, age etc.” (Golicnik Marusic, 2011). It is possible to add any collected data to GIS database for analysing public space in more detail and more comprehensive way. These data can include;

  • User profile; who is using public space (gender and age)
  • Activities (walking, sitting, standing etc.)
  • Activity types (necessary, optional, social)
  • Time (how long activities occur, different times of day and year)
  • Weather conditions (temperature, moisture, wind)


The database must be designed carefully to combine different data types. It is possible to prepare detailed analysis such as elderly people’s choice of sitting on sunny days etc. in GIS. It is a very practical tool with a few adjustments it is easy to produce various maps. GIS also gives an opportunity to produce advanced analysis.

The analysis developed based on the behaviour map with GIS Source: Golicnik Marusic (2011)

It is difficult to collect this kind of detailed data, for it might take too much time, especially investigating a large area with hundreds of people in it. Photographs and video records can ease this process. “Studying photographs or film, it is possible to discover new connections or to go into detail with otherwise complex city situations that are difficult to fully comprehend with the naked eye” (Gehl and Svarre, 2013).  Studying photographs can be challenged sometimes because it is hard to see what people are doing in crowded places. Also, it does not provide information about how long activities occurred. I think it is important because of how much time people are spending in public space matters. According to Gehl (1971), people tend to spend more time in good public spaces; therefore, it is a crucial criterion to understand whether the place is successful or not.

Usage time analysis Source: Author

Recording video is a more productive tool to capture walking activity continuously and to understand how activities affect one another, which is essential as the effect of the physical features on activities (Canter, 1977).

Walking activity analysis Source: Author


Collecting data from video recording is another challenge, but image processing can be used to ease this process.  The image processing technology is mostly using for commercial purposes and security issues these days, and also it is arguable in ethical concerns.  With image processing, it is possible to detect the profile of users (gender and age); moreover, it can identify different activities by combining machine learning.

Bird’s eye view of public space Source:

 Another device that can be used producing behavioural maps is the drone. The images and videos captured by the drone can quickly turn into behavioural maps with the exact location of activities. It is also easy to see pedestrian flows by examining video records that taking by drone. But some features like trees can block the image, so it is not useful for every place. These are just a few humble thoughts of mine about how behavioural mapping method can be improved to gain more knowledge for creating people-friendly public spaces.

There are many universal facts about how physical features affect people’s behaviours established mainly by William H. Whyte and Jan Gehl.

Behavioural maps produced by Whyte (Left) and Gehl (Right) Source: Whyte (1980), Gehl and Svarre (2013)

However, designers have to consider local behaviour patterns. According to Relph (1976), every place has a unique identity. Physical attributes, activities, meaning and relations among them constitutes this unique identity. Every place requires special attention because people’s behaviours changes depending on identity and identity have a strong connection with culture. According to Madanipour (2010), public spaces reflect the complex structure of cities in the social, economic and cultural context. I think behavioural maps also a way of understanding how culture affects daily life practices. Therefore, the behavioural mapping method is an important tool to understand public spaces. It is also essential to improve this method to make it more practical; therefore, it can be used by any practitioner of urban design anywhere. Empirical knowledge gained by improving this method can help to understand the identity of the place, consequently designing places for people.

PS: This writing inspired by the urban design seminar lecture where we examined some sections of William H. Whyte’s “City: Rediscovering the Center” (1998) and Jan Gehl’s “Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space” (1971).






Canter, D. (1977). The Psychology of Place. London: Architectural Press.

Cosco, N. G., Moore, R. C., & Islam, M. Z. (2010). Behavior mapping: a method for linking preschool physical activity and outdoor design. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise42(3), 513-519.

Gehl, J. (1971). Life between buildings: using public space Copenhagen.

Gehl, J., & Svarre, B. (2013). How to study public life. Island Press.

Golicnik, B. (2005). Public urban open spaces and patterns of users: exploring behavioural data using GIS (pp. 167-175). Hogrefe Publishing.

Golicnik Marusic, B. (2011). Analysis of patterns of spatial occupancy in urban open space using behaviour maps and GIS. Urban design international16(1), 36-50.

Ittelson, W. H., Rivilin, L. G. & Prohansky, H. M. (1970). The Use of Behavioral Maps in Environmental Psychology. Journal of Environmental Psychology: Man and His Physical Setting 1 (3), 658-668.

Madanipour, A. (Ed.). (2013). Whose public space?: International case studies in urban design and development. Routledge.

Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.

Whyte, W. H. (1988). City: Rediscovering the Center. Doubleday.

Whyte, W. H. (1980). The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington, DC: The Conservation Foundation. (2019). Eminonu meydani fast food. [online] Available at: [Accessed 07 Nov. 2019]. (2019). Bird’s eye view of city life. [online] Available at: [Accessed 07 Nov. 2019].


One response to “Behavioural Mapping as a Tool for Understanding Public Space”

  1. Your writing on behavioural mapping is of great interest to me and I really enjoyed reading your blog post! It immediately made me think of Henry Lefebvre and his writing on rhythmanalysis, a concept that was incredibly valuable to my project last year. In his writing Lefebvre describes rhythms in relation to the human body as a method for analyzing urban space, where internal (body) rhythms can be used as a measure or map of our environment. For example, when you stop to cross the road, your stride is broken and you are immediately more aware of your surrounding environment and the moving traffic. For my project last year (based in Vienna) I studied and mapped the movements of tourists in the central square surrounding St Stephansdom Cathedral. I wanted to realise how the behavior and movement of people could help to build a picture of their surroundings. To do this I applied Lefebvre’s theories on rhthymanalysis by counting my own stride and steps between spatial features as a way of measuring and mapping the urban environment. My stride was often interrupted by people and traffic and this affected the outcome of the map. Through my mapping I was able to see how most people congregated and realised that large parts of the map were completely empty as there was no relationship between the people and the urban environment at these points. The project became a way of mapping the production of day to day life in an urban setting, effectively, peoples movements build the urban space around them. Lefebvre’s theory helped to highlight the social disproportions and struggles in the urban surroundings (Wiedmann and Salama, 2019). You make an interesting reference to behavioural psychology and point out how photographs don’t depict peoples actions or behvaiour in the space, suggesting videos or drones are more successful as they show personal interactions. I completely agree and wish I could have applied this method of thinking to my project at the time so I could map the day to day life in more depth (Henri Lefebvre, 1992).


    Henri Lefebvre, 1992. Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. Bloomsbury.
    Wiedmann, F., Salama, A., 2019. Mapping Lefebvre’s Theory on the Production of Space to an Integrated Approach for Sustainable Urbanism. p. Chapter 31.

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