This report is aimed to study two different design research methods and compare each other. In the perspectives of landscape planning and design, studying the use pattern in a public open space is a common practice. According to different types of project and depending on which data we would like to collect and present, there can be different kinds of methods to be implemented, sometimes we will use different methods together for the same project to collect a more accurate and holistic result. Activity mapping and direct field observation are the two common methods that mostly used. The description of activity-physical features interrelationship can be helped by “empirical evidence” which generated by those methodologies. (Golicnik, 2010).
2. Method 1: Activity Mapping
Activity mapping is first introduced in Itteleson et al.’s research (1970) and has been used for data collection. (Canter, 1976) It is simply observing users’ activities and movements which related to physical features of built environment characteristic and elements and recording the users’ pattern within a study area then map the data on a map. (Cosco et al., 2010) This method helps to understand the real activity patterns which related to spatial settings of the study area.
For instance, this method was used in Cohen et al.’s research (2007). According to certain codes and measurement protocols, a systematic observation protocol was developed. The proposed system was tested through observing people’s activities in park areas and record the data on a map. The observation period was carried out in a six month which includes seven days of a week in certain parks. The observation in a day was divided into four-time sessions which lasted for an hour (7:30 am, 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 6:30 pm). The park was separated into certain target areas which were potential for activity. (Cohen et al., 2007) Researchers had to complete coding form through recording the observation starting time and codes which used to express the existing environment and features of the area and whether the area was occupied for activities during each observation. Researchers also have to record each individual’s activities and their age and ethnic group and further transferred those data to recording form and then determine whether the physic activity level is vigorous, walking or sedentary. Then researchers have to move to next target area and complete another record form.
Another example is the study by the City of Saskatoon (2011), which its methodology was developed from Jan Gehl (1987). They collect data to explain where and how many people play, cycle, walk, stand and sit in the space. Site surveys, public surveys and direct observation were carried out at certain areas within the city center area. The public life survey is divided into two types, which are the pedestrian or cycling traffic and stationary activity counts. They count around 57000 people in a pedestrian daytime traffic survey. The count was taking 30 minutes for every hour from 7 am to 8 pm in weekday and calculate an hourly average of a week. The activity mapping was carried out for 30 minutes of every hour and record where people were engaged in activities of a day. They collect the data on different days throughout the week and express average weekday activities.
Using activity maps to collect data for direct field observation seems like a good practice. However, it has great potential to introduce GIS to help to collect the data and carry out different analysis according to types of data.
3. Method 2: Direct Field Observation
Through recording locations and types of activities taking place within an area, a direct understanding and experience of a space are provided to researchers by direct field observation. It is true that the exploration and evaluation of physical characteristic within an area are significantly influenced by the relationship between spaces and people. (Canter, 1977) It is believed that every successful designer learns their own knowledge of urban spaces by “first-hand experience” which will tell how individual’s activities is affected by physical features in using a space. (Carmona, 2010)
It can be divided into two forms of observation. One is participant observation. Applying this form of observation, researchers have to adjust his or her activities to the continuing activities within the space and think about himself or herself as a participant to experience less or more the alike incident as those commonly happen at the study space. Therefore, it takes time. Another form is non-participant observation. It consists of visual observation on the interaction between activities of individuals and traces physically of them with the observer not being an insider. Through mapping, photographing and notes, researchers can record types of activities which are taking place by individuals within the urban area. (Banerjee, 2011)
For photography, it is famous and widely used in field observations such as time-lapse photography and cheap super 8mm film. The power of direct observation is essential and livable spaces will be created by considering empirical knowledge because design is a process consists of inclusive understanding of how people actually would like to use spaces and how people use them. (Whyte, 2001) For example, Gehl’s research counted how many people were and recognized what they were doing and what landscape elements make an area works and using maps and photographs to record to investigate potential connection between physical settings and activities within a study space between buildings. (Gehl, 2011)
When we apply those methods for getting data, it obtains the actual use of the space and examines potential relationships between the use of design features and human actions. In this case, the actual uses which are at different times are analyzed collected by direct data.
The advantage of using those methodologies is that it can show result directly when we are getting information from direct observation. It means that the analyzed data and existing site situation in the period of time are honestly showed. It can be absolutely correct to a certain extent.
However, there is also a weakness of using those methodologies. Some basic considerations in data preparation are not considered such as age group, weather, etc. Therefore, method’s choosing is still clarified by the set features of the site. Most importantly, criteria from using those methodologies should set up before mapping and site visit observation. Otherwise, the outcome of data collection will be incorrectly affected to the whole study.
Moreover, data collection in this study is purely based on the observer’s perception. Scanning the studied area can still be challenging. Especially, when people are in constant locomotion, there is huge chance of overlapping. Each point in the map of the case study represents a single user and there might be a chance of counting it twice if the observer is not aware.
New studies have incorporated GPS attached to each user and their location is logged for every few seconds. Therefore, analyzing use patterns is more reliable, flexible and can open new windows in data analysis and findings. But, this method requires a lot of time and preparation for approved consent.
According to the case, Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, the methods used are direct field observation, activity mapping and GIS analysis and activity mapping with the help of GPS. To apply these three tools simultaneously, the study had gathered qualitative data on the activity type, use of design features and activity location of each of the users on site. These qualitative data are translated into quantitative data by determining the frequency of the qualitative data gathered. It shows the analysis of the data is able to figure out user’s preferences and thus determining the pattern of use and the data can show problems of the site that causes a decline in usage and recommend solutions that can enhance the user’s experience.
For the Important points and shortcomings in applying those methods, one is the limitations with GPS & GIS. It is more efficient and flexible in managing data collected during the on-site survey but there still can be some errors might need to face such as micro-climate consideration. Climate change might affect users with the design features. If weather temperature, sunny and shaded areas were included, the findings and conclusion might be different. The complexity of the timing it has to consider due to the study findings and result. It also needs to very circumspect to consider the age group, although the accuracy can be argued, at least the case has an assumption of the distribution of users.
The advantage of using those methodologies is that it can show result directly through direct observation. when the analyzed data and existing site situation in the period of time is honestly showed. The weakness is some basic considerations in data preparation are not considered such as age group, climate change and GIS. Most important is the criteria for using those methodologies should set up before mapping and site visit observation. We can get easy to understand the relationship between physical and activity patterns from the above interaction in selected sites.
As a result, no matter what methodologies you would like to apply, it depends on what types of data you would like to collect and what types of project you are working on.