American Urbanist, Organizational Analyst, Journalist and People-Watcher
William H. Whyte, Jr., fully William Hollingsworth "Holly" Whyte
American Urbanist, Organizational Analyst, Journalist and People-Watcher
If there?s a lesson in street-watching it is that people do like basics ? and as environments go, a street that is open to the sky and filled with people and life is a splendid place to be.
This book is about the organization man.... The people I am talking about... are not the workers, nor are they the white-collar people in the usual, clerk sense of the word. These people only work for the Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well.
It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people. What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.
Up to seven people per foot of walkway a minute is a nice bustle
One felicity leads to another. Good places tend to be all of a piece ? and the reason can almost always be traced to a human being.
We are not hapless beings caught in the grip of forces we can do little about, and wholesale damnations of our society only lend a further mystique to organization. Organization has been made by man; it can be changed by man.
People very rarely think in groups; they talk together, they exchange information, they adjudicate, they make compromises. But they do not think; they do not create.
What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.
So-called ?undesirables? are not the problem. It is the measures taken to combat them that is the problem.
Someday someone is going to create a stir by proposing a radical new tool for the study people. It will be called the face-value technique. It would be based on the premise that people often do what they do for the reasons they think they do. The use of this technique will lead to many pitfalls, for it is undeniably true that people do not always act logically or say what they mean. But I wonder if it would produce findings any more unscientific than the opposite course.
The human backside is a dimension architects seem to have forgotten.
The I.B.M. machine has no ethic of its own; what it does is enable one or two people to do the computing work that formerly required many more people. If people often use it stupidly, it's their stupidity, not the machine's, and a return to the abacus would not exorcise the failing. People can be treated as drudges just as effectively without modern machines.
The old absolute moral values are disappearing. There is still black and white, to be sure, but it is no longer determined by fixed precepts; it is determined rather by what the group thinks is black and white -- and if someone does things the way his group does, well, who is to censure him for his loyalty?
The same man who will quote from Benjamin Franklin on thrift for the house organ would be horrified if consumers took these maxims to heart and started putting more money into savings and less into installment purchases.
The spectacle of people following current custom for lack of will or imagination to do anything else is hardly a new failing.
The street is the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center.
But the process should not be confused with science. When tests are used as selections devices, they're not a neutral tool; they become a large factor int he very equation they purport to measure. For one thing, the tests tend to screen out - or repel - those who would upset the correlation. If a man can't get into the company in the first place because he isn't the company type, he can't very well get to be an executive and be tested in a study to find out what kind if profile subsequent executives should match. Long before personality tests were invented, of course, plenty of companies proved that if you only hire people of a certain type, then all your successful men will be people of that type. But no one confused this with the immutable laws of science.
The United States continues to be dominated by large organizations, and they are run much as they were before. The people who staff them are pretty much the same as those who did before.
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.
Their attitude toward another aspect of organization shows the same bias. What of the group life, the loss of individualism? Once upon a time it was conventional for young men to view the group life of the big corporations as one of its principal disadvantages. Today, they see it as a positive boon. Working with others, they believe, will reduce the frustration of work, and they often endow the accompanying suppression of ego with strong spiritual overtones. They will concede that there is often a good bit of wasted time in the committee way of life and that the handling of human relations involves much suffering of fools gladly. But this sort of thing, they say, is the heart of the organization man's job, not merely the disadvantages of it. Any man who feels frustrated by these things, one young trainee with face unlined said to me, can never be an executive.
Groupthink is becoming a national philosophy. 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.
There is a rash of studies underway designed to uncover the bad consequences of overcrowding. This is all very well as far as it goes, but it only goes in one direction. What about undercrowding? The researchers would be a lot more objective if they paid as much attention to the possible effects on people of relative isolation and lack of propinquity. Maybe some of those rats they study get lonely too.
I end then in praise of small spaces. The multiplier effect is tremendous. It is not just the number of people using them, but the larger number who pass by and enjoy them vicariously, or even the larger number who feel better about the city center for knowledge of them. For a city, such places are priceless, whatever the cost. They are built of a set of basics and they are right in front of our noses. If we will look.
This book is about the organization man. If the term is vague, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are not the workers, nor are they the white-collar people in the usual, clerk sense of the word. These people only work for The Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. Only a few are top managers or ever will be. In a system that makes such hazy terminology as "junior executive" psychologically necessary, they are of the staff as much as the line, and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism. But they are the dominant members of our society nonetheless. They have not joined together into a recognizable elite--our country does not stand still long enough for that--but it is from their ranks that are coming most of the first and second echelons of our leadership, and it is their values which will set the American temper.