Abstract: Wireless devices and networks serve as one type of interface that can be used to negotiate, filter, and control users’ experience within the built environment. Privately owned public spaces (POPS) often offer wireless connectivity to the public, and have the ability to increase the overall use of public spaces (Hampton, Livio, & Sessions, Goulet, 2010). This study compares indoor and outdoor POPS, and the role of wireless networks on users’ behaviors and perceptions of these spaces. The purpose of this research is to compare users’ preferences of public space typologies, and better understand users’ preferences of physical features in public spaces. Observations, recorded through behavioral mapping, of two POPS (one indoor and one outdoor) in Lower Manhattan revealed common patterns among wireless device users. When wireless users were present, mobile seating options were preferred over fixed seating choices in both indoor and outdoor spaces. A web-based survey of POPS users (N=64) revealed that users’ prefer outdoor public spaces for Internet-use over indoor spaces. The majority of respondents (85%) reported that green spaces (parks) were the most commonly preferred setting for Internet use in public space. Furthermore, “free Wi-Fi with strong signal strength” was indicated as the most important characteristic in choosing a public space with the highest mean score, followed by seating among Internet users in POPS. However, the physical characteristics that most influenced positive preferences toward images were both seating and vegetation. This indicates that while the importance of free Wi-Fi in public space is high; physical characteristics tied to the outdoor environment remain important in choosing public spaces.
Keywords: Urban public space, private owned public space, Wi-Fi, digital public space, third places, environment and behavior