William Hollingsworth Whyte
|Died||12 January 1999 (aged 81)|
New York City
|Occupation||Sociologist, urbanist, writer|
|The Organization Man, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces|
William Hollingsworth "Holly" Whyte (October 1, 1917 - January 12, 1999) was an American urbanist, organizational analyst, journalist and people-watcher. He identified the elements that create vibrant public spaces within the city and filmed a variety of urban plazas in New York City in 1970s. After his book about corporate culture The Organization Man (1956) sold over two million copies, Whyte turned his attention to the study of human behaviour in urban settings. He published several books on the topic, including The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980).
Whyte was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1917. An early graduate of St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware, he graduated from Princeton University in 1939 and then served in Marine Corps between 1941 and 1945. He was commissioned and served as battalion intelligence officer with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines in the Guadalcanal Campaign. He left Guadalcanal at the end of the campaign with a serious case of malaria that lingered for years. He spent the rest of the war lecturing and writing at the Marine Corps Staff and Command School at Quantico, Virginia, on the fighting qualities of the Japanese soldier.
In 1952, Whyte coined the term "Groupthink":
Groupthink being a coinage - and, admittedly, a loaded one - a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity - it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity - an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.
While working with the New York City Planning Commission in 1969, Whyte began to use direct observation to describe behavior in urban settings. With research assistants wielding still cameras, movie cameras, and notebooks, Whyte described the substance of urban public life in an objective and measurable way.
These observations developed into the "Street Life Project", an ongoing study of pedestrian behavior and city dynamics, and eventually to Whyte's book called City: Rediscovering the Center (1988). "City" presents Whyte's conclusions about jaywalking, 'schmoozing patterns,' the actual use of urban plazas, appropriate sidewalk width, and other issues. This work remains valuable because it is based on careful observation, and because it contradicts other conventional wisdom, for instance, the idea that pedestrian traffic and auto traffic should be separated.
Whyte served as mentor to many, including the urban-planning writer Jane Jacobs, Paco Underhill, who has applied the same technique to measuring and improving retail environments, Dan Biederman of Bryant Park Corporation, who led the renovation of Bryant Park and the Business Improvement District movement in New York City, Fred Kent, who worked with Whyte for a number of years before starting Project for Public Spaces, and future New York City Planning Commissioner, heiress and socialite Amanda Burden.
His other books include: Is Anybody Listening? (1952), Securing Open Spaces for Urban America (1959), Cluster Development (1964), The Last Landscape (1968; "about the way metropolitan areas look and the way they might look"), The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980; plus a companion documentary film of the same name), and City: Rediscovering the Center (1988).
Whyte married fashion designer Jenny Bell Bechtel in 1964. They had one daughter, Alexandra Whyte.