William H. Whyte did extensive research in 1980 on what makes city plazas popular or unpopular. He published a book called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces detailing his team’s findings, which are, generally, fascinating.
There’s a companion video, which is surprisingly difficult to find. Direct Cinema Limited sells a DVD for $95 licensed for public performances, but no ordinary (and cheap) “home use” copy seems to be available online.
Fortunately, through the magic of YouTube, you can watch the first 10 minutes, which will make you want to immediately pay the $95 for your own copy. My favorite remark in that introduction:
The number one activity is people looking at other people.
Here are the “girl watchers.” They’re a bit disdainful, looking down their noses as though the girls aren’t worth their talents. But it’s all machismo. We have never ever seen a girl watcher make a pass at a girl. We’ve seen very few others do that for that matter.
But of course! They’re girl watchers. Actually talking to a girl would inhibit their ability to watch them!