Whyte’s essay “The Design of Spaces” observes and categorizes the common patterns of people in urban public spaces. A flaneur-inspired approach, his essay highlights and embraces the significance of banal human behaviors within the context of an ever changing modern society. In contrast to the tourist for whom sightseeing is a form of ritual, the flaneur seeks out the process of seeing for its own sake, bypassing the obvious official highlights of city in favor of its darker and dirtier reality. Whyte monitors the sitting patterns, standing patterns, group geometry, distances, and small talk of various public gathering spaces. His viewing paints a picture much like an Impressionist painting, creating a snap shot of a bustling scene, “Looking down on a bare plaza, one sees a display of geometry, done almost in monochrome. Down at eye level the scene comes alive with movement and color – people walking quickly, walking slowly, skipping up steps, weaving in and out on crossing patterns…There is a beauty that is beguiling to watch, and one senses that the players are quite aware of this themselves. You can see this in the way they arrange themselves on ledges and steps…With its brown-gray setting, Seagram is the best stages – in the rain, too, when an umbrella or two puts spots of color in the right places, like Corot’s red dots.” (486) This scene is visually reminiscent of Renior’s “The Unbrellas,” reinstating the conceptual power Impressionism had during its time. When inventions such as the steam engine, power loom, streetlights, camera, ready-made fashions, cast iron, and steel were changing the lives of ordinary people, Impressionism took interest in seeing the world through the effect of man’s presence rather than its technologies -- knowing places through the context of man’s action within the space.
Public space is produced through the balancing of dominant and subordinate spatial understanding. Institutions strategically manufacture places, centers of power (like corporate plazas), and people subvert these places to create individual spaces. These tactics of everyday people in public spaces is what Certeau described, in The Practice of Everyday Life, as a 'spatial practice.' Skateboarding is and example of "a certain play within a system of defined places" (106). As a public space becomes authoritarian, skateboarding "'authorizes' the production of an area of free play on a checkerboard that analyzes and classifies identities. It makes places habitable" (106). A skateboarder is like an impressionist painter. As a flaneur, a skateboarder wanders the city according to no set route or schedule, riding the surface of the outdoor landscape engaging the solitary bench in an ollie. Skateboarding illustrates the distinction and relationships between strategies and tactics, public spaces and private people. The spaces skateboarders occupy are typically underused or scripted for use only by office workers and tourists. While Whyte criticizes the open corporate spaces that alienate the public they supposedly serve, with benches that “are design artifacts the purpose of which is to punctuate architectural photographs” (489), these are very spaces skateboarders are drawn to. They find a way to put the bench and the wide open space to public use, repurposing the landscape and reclaiming the public sphere symbolically for the underrepresented such as children, homeless, elderly, and drug dealers.
Skateboarders also work on the notion of time. In the same way the impressionist painter captures a moment in time, often sketching out light and color differences, skateboarders ride the rhythm of the city. They are in tune with the micro experience, the rhythm analysis as Ian Borden describes as “the relation of the self to the city’s physical minutiae that are not always obvious to, or considered by, the dominant visualization of the city on which we most commonly depend.” (10) Skateboarders feel the streets, the clicking cracks under the wheels ticking the time down blocks through intersections. A full body, sensory experience of sound, sights, and physical energy, skateboarding is an aggressive meeting with the landscape. Skateboarders test the “public” aspects of public architecture in their process of spatial observation, action, and seeking of the physical possibilities. They perform as context – negotiating and conversing with the public space they enter. Neither dominant or submissive, or activist or pedestrian, skateboarders are still simply flaneurs.