Enjoy SC: Public Space Observations by City of Columbia

Visitors to the State House grounds enjoy live classical music and  interactive activities by the SC Philharmonic

Visitors to the State House grounds enjoy live classical music and  interactive activities by the SC Philharmonic

As a part of the Enjoy SC event, a public space initiative funded by the Knight Foundation, City of Columbia Planning staff and volunteers engaged in observational surveys of the State House Grounds. The survey methodology is based on the Public Space Public Life Study and resulting 2016 Action Plan, which was developed by Gehl and funded by the Knight Foundation. These surveys will be conducted at every Enjoy SC event in order to identify trends in behavior and identify potential opportunities that can be used throughout the City of Columbia, communities across the Midlands, and the State.

Through years of public space surveys that have been conducted at the State House, we have been able to clearly identify usage trends that occur at this location on a typical weekday and weekend. Typically, individuals do not stop on the Grounds, but instead use the area as a pass-through. Students use the Grounds to access USC’s campus; tourists take pictures but quickly move on; and individuals use the Grounds briefly for physical activity, such as stair running. Similar observations occur within other public spaces within Columbia.

Enjoy SC - Wednesday, April 4th

However, during the Enjoy SC’s first day on Wednesday, April 4th, we saw the beginnings of a reversal of these trends – both in attendance, and in how individuals used the space. Pedestrians were not passing through any more but were staying and enjoying the public space. What we observed on April 4th was that with the introduction of public seating and interactive activities, the number of people who visited the State House Grounds increased dramatically.

Additionally, we found that hundreds of people utilized the seating we introduced to the Grounds during this same two-hour event. Typically, few individuals stop and enjoy a seat within the State House grounds, and when they do, they generally sit on the few permanent benches that are placed around the Grounds.

How individuals utilized the event seating was even more telling.  Over a quarter of the individuals (27%) were sitting and talking with others.  A third (33%) of the individuals at tables and chairs were working or playing. Almost a fifth (18%) were eating or drinking, despite no food or drink being given out during the event.  Almost a fifth (18%) were also interacting or watching the various performers that were participating in the event.

In studying how individuals respond to the programming of the State House Grounds, both with activities and with attractive and engaging seating, we are able to better understand how to engage our citizens.  These numbers show that even though there was an event going on, the actual activities were only part of the reason people stopped and had a seat. In many cases the seating that was used was not near an activity.  It would seem that people are looking for a place to eat their lunch, work outside, or meet with others. Where we are able to provide these seating elements within our public spaces, they will be well utilized and contribute to a more vibrant and engaging public realm.

In the days and weeks ahead (April and May) we will continue to observe and calculate how the public is enjoying, interacting, and engaging with one another within the public realm of the State House Grounds.

Shane Shaughnessy
City of Columbia Planner