Welcome to Just Spaces


The Just Spaces data tool is a project of University City District (UCD), supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation and UCD internal resources. Throughout this project, UCD embarked on a process to explore social justice in its own public spaces, events, and Green City Works landscaping social enterprise, and to develop a mobile-ready data collection and analysis tool with our partners at DataMade.


UCD Organizational Background

University City District is a partnership of world renowned anchor institutions, small businesses and residents that creates opportunity, and improves economic vitality and quality of life in the University City area of West Philadelphia. Our primary mission is community revitalization. We work within a place-based, data-driven framework to invest in world-class public spaces, address crime and public safety, bring life to commercial corridors, connect low-income residents to careers, and promote job growth and innovation.

UCD’s public space portfolio includes The Porch at 30th Street Station, Trolley Portal Gardens, several pedestrian plazas located in primarily residential neighborhoods, an annual program to install Parklets in parking spaces around the district, and street seating in the public right of way. The organization is responsible for the design, operations and programming of these spaces. UCD also regularly engages with public spaces that are not directly under our control, including public parks and privately owned, publicly accessible plazas and parks.


Just Spaces Project Background

Just Spaces is UCD’s effort to seize the imperative as a developer and operator of public spaces to engage in principled, frank analysis of our work and develop deliberate tactics to ensure that public spaces are deeply inclusive and just. In Philadelphia, hundreds of millions of dollars in public, private, and philanthropic investments are devoted to developing and renovating public spaces. As these spaces proliferate, the discourse about equity in public spaces ranges from lip service to sincerity, but we have lacked sufficient frameworks to evaluate or evolve in our approaches. The project, with the support of its advisory group, adopted a framework developed by Setha Low at the City University of New York Graduate Center that outlines five realms of justice in public space:

  • Distributive – Who has physical access (by walking, bike, transit, and private vehicle) to a public space or network of spaces?
  • Procedural – How do people feel about their influence over the design, operations, and programming of a public space?
  • Interactional – What makes people feel welcome or unwanted in a public space?
  • Representational – Do people feel their experience and history is represented in a space?
  • Care - How do people demonstrate their care for the space and each other?

When considering principles of social justice, urban planners and designers commonly emphasize the need for initial public input in the physical design and general public access of the space. These approaches neglect what becomes the life of the space: its ongoing operations, programming and governance. When investments do not prioritize equity and justice, they can entrench and inflame existing injustices. Most owners and operators of public space networks tend to focus heavily on the design of individual spaces; our work aims to change this paradigm by prioritizing justice.


The Just Spaces Tool

The Just Spaces project has created a mobile web-based tool to gather data about public spaces and events, which can spur informed discussions.

We believe the tool is critical for UCD and other public space owners and managers to better understand the current status of public spaces and lay the foundation to answer the critical questions: Who is using our spaces? Who is not using our spaces? What kinds of interventions (e.g. programming, operations, design, regulations, security), if any, impact who does and does not use our spaces?

The tool has three features that make it unique from any other product.

  1. Collect and store data from observational and intercept surveys based on researcher-designed templates.

  2. Compare demographic results to Census data for user-defined geographic areas that allow the user to see “who is not using a space” or simply see how respondents compare to the demographics of a user defined area.

  3. Open source design, so users can build improvements to the tool. Just Spaces is open source under the MIT license, which means that the code that powers the site is freely available for all to use without restriction. If you'd like to tinker with the code, or even stand up your own version of Just Spaces, you can fork the repository here and follow the setup instructions in the README. The code for Just Spaces was written by DataMade using a number of other open source tools, including Python, Django, and PostgreSQL.


Just Spaces Beyond the Tool

For UCD the Just Spaces endeavor has been about much more than technology. It has been an opportunity to take stock of our work, convene stakeholders, listen to the community and our own employees.

We relocated a parklet in front of a laundromat to invite residents who may not frequent food establishments to use these spaces in both message and practice. We created a community vendor program for the Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll to formally engage and provide access to this signature event for neighborhood entrepreneurs. We reprogrammed our movie nights to include more films with directors and casts that are majority people of color and have welcomed record audiences to the series. Finally, we partnered with the Powelton Village Civic Association to create a historic signage program to highlight the role of notable women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community in the history of Powelton Village.

We have also contributed to the public discourse in Philadelphia and beyond through presentations at Walk/Bike/Place, Philadelphia Urban Consulate, the American Society of Landscape Architects, publication in Traffic and Transit, and an event in collaboration with Urban Consulate.


Using the Tool

To use the Just Spaces tool, please fill out this short form. You will receive an email within 1-2 business days with unique login information. Each user should submit the form separately, but multiple user accounts may be created for a single organization/agency.

The tool allows two different types of surveys: observational surveys and intercept surveys. Observational surveys allow you to collect data simply by observing users of public spaces or attendees at an event. Observational surveys follow the format of the Gehl Institute Public Life Data Protocol. Intercept surveys involve asking people questions, which can provide insights on peoples’ opinions as well as providing demographic information that might not be possible from observational surveys. We have provided a couple sample templates with recommended and vetted questions, but both types of surveys are customizable to fit your needs.

Navigating the tool

  • “Create new survey” page: You’ll first need to set up metadata such as survey name, survey location, and type of study (intercept vs. observational). You can assign a survey to a study (for example, you might have a “study” for each public space or event series). Additionally, you can choose from one of our pre-set templates here. You can then add survey questions from pre-set questions, or you can create your own.

  • “Edit survey” page: You can add or delete questions, or change the wording on any surveys you’ve already created. Then, you will need to publish a survey before you can run it. Once you publish a survey, it cannot be edited.

  • “Run survey” page: This is the data collection mode. From this page, you can conduct any published surveys.

  • “View collected data” page: You can display the results of any survey data you’ve collected here. For several demographic variables, you can also compare survey results to a different geography that you specify on a map. For example, if you conduct a survey at a park in Philadelphia, you can compare the demographics of park users to demographics of the city as a whole, or compare to a specific neighborhood. To create a neighborhood, you’d just have to select on the map which Census block groups to include. From the “View collected data” page, you can also download survey results as a CSV.

Tips and best practices for data collection

  • Run surveys for data collection during times when a space experiences “typical” usage. For example, holidays, special events, and weather events might impact people using a space. Unless you are specifically trying to gauge the effect of these events, stick to typical times.

  • Be aware of differences in public space usage or event attendance at different times of day or day of week. There may be differences between day vs. night or weekday vs. weekend attendance.

  • For observational surveys, running surveys as a snapshot in time is often the easiest way to collect data. Instead of sitting at a site for a full hour, running the survey at the top of the hour can provide a representative snapshot of who’s using a space.

  • For intercept surveys, try to survey people who are demographically representative of the overall group of people using a space. If you only approach people who look like you when running surveys, your results may be biased.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Which Census dataset does the Just Spaces tool compare survey data to?

    Just Spaces compares survey data to US Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. For this reason, we are bound to Census geographies (Just Spaces uses Census block group-level data).

  2. Can I use the Just Spaces tool to examine changes in public space use longitudinally (over time)?

    Absolutely. A useful feature of the tool is that you can conduct a survey as many times as you’d like from the “Run survey” page. Then, you’ll be able to compare results from the “View collected data” page.

  3. Can multiple people from my organization run the same surveys?

    Yes! Each user from your organization/agency should have a different account, but you will all be able to access the same surveys. There are different permissions levels we can assign to accounts, such as field users (can only run surveys) or staff users (can run surveys as well as create/edit/delete surveys).

  4. When running observational surveys, how do I know people’s age/race/gender simply from looking at them?

    These responses in observational surveys will be based on your perceptions. Age ranges are quite broad for this reason. Perceived race and gender may be problematically biased or skewed by the identities of the surveyor, and it’s important to consider these nuances when analyzing and presenting data.

  5. What if I want to customize data analysis or visualization?

    The Just Spaces tool was designed to be widely accessible, which presents tradeoffs in the amount of customization possible. However, you can download survey data as a CSV from the “View collected data” page to analyze or visualize your data in whichever software you are most comfortable working with. Additionally, the tool was built using open source code which you can download from DataMade’s GitHub page and customize as you see fit!