Mobilizing the Urban Model for a more Liveable City

The Liveable Cities team at Lancaster University recently sponsored UCL researcher, Dr Jamie O’Brien, to run a workshop at Lancaster University to learn more about the research he is undertaking in modelling urban movement patterns. Below, Jamie discusses this work and the results of the Lancaster workshop:

Movement is the fundamental function of the urban network as people and goods need to move from one place to another. Yet increased road traffic adds to carbon emissions, air pollution and disruption to local spaces. Our high-streets are now dominated by through-movements, as traffic flows to urban peripheries, which reduces the affordances of to-movements within local areas. As part of the Liveable Cities agenda, we wanted to understand how urban movement patterns might be modelled to better understand their significance in planning for sustainability supported by diversified urban-network configurations. For example, how do we show how large-scale traffic enforces path-dependencies and disrupts small-scale movements for searching and discovering in local urban spaces? Can we also think differently about urban scales as inhabitants generate urban patterns based on their diverse movements?

 

Mobilizing the Urban Model was a one-day workshop for Liveable Cities, hosted by CeMoRe and the Institute for Social Futures. The workshop – led by Monika Büscher and facilitated by Jamie O’Brien and Zofia Bednarowska – explored methods for analyzing the significance and impact of urban-network movements for consumption journeys. Mobilizing the Urban Model invited participants to think critically and creatively about urban scales, considering how they are configured in relation to urban movements. Participants mapped their consumption journeys in and around Lancaster, including places travelled to for making consumer purchases and places travelled through for the enjoyment of consumption. We also invited participants to consider their consumer journey’s affordances for information gathering: the degree to which their journey allowed them to search or discover.

 

In order to understand urban formation in terms of movement and information participants were introduced to the theory and methods of Space Syntax and its core computational application, Depthmap. In essence, Space Syntax provides a method of modeling urban networks based on patterns of potential movement. Depthmap encodes network structures in terms of rates of potential movement at various scales of analysis. Hence, Depthmap can reveal how a single network structure can carry convergent urban flows that may have formed around, for example, regional and local vehicular traffic, pedestrian and velo-mobile traffic, and so on.  Working with principles of Space Syntax and with Depthmap models, participants reconsidered their mapped consumption journeys in terms of movement patterns. A key point of discussion from these urban modeling exercises was the impact of movement modalities on information-gathering. For example, a high-speed regional route affords very little information relating to local environments. Instead pedestrian or velo-mobile movement affords information-gathering within that local environment.

 

The workshop concluded with a discussion relating to urban scales as utopian configurations rather than spatial abstractions. A localized scale may be described in terms of accessibility or walkability. However, a utopian approach to urban modelling may generate semantically enriched taxonomies of scale that reflect affordances for inhabitants’ movements. For example, urban modellers might configure a scale based on ‘discoverability’ in terms of encountering novel or unexpected artefacts along a journey. This ‘bespoke’ urban modelling, involving the inter-dependencies of various scales, may improve urban living by bringing into relief the opportunities for configurations and affordances for individual or small-group experiences. By engaging in map-making and with theories and methods of Space Syntax, participants of Mobilizing the Urban Model produced a range of compelling research designs that the workshop team aims to take forward to a series of research proposals. Potential projects in this area would address the beneficial impact on inhabitants’ lived experiences of applying urban models based on generative scales to planning interventions.

 

If you’re interested in discussing this research further, you can contact Jamie at jamie.o'brien@ucl.ac.uk.

A participant’s map of consumption journeys in and around Lancaster
A participant’s map of consumption journeys in and around Lancaster
Space Syntax Depthmap model of Lancaster’s regional urban network
Space Syntax Depthmap model of Lancaster’s regional urban network
Space Syntax Depthmap model of Lancaster’s local urban network
Space Syntax Depthmap model of Lancaster’s local urban network