Team of architects, urbanists and IT specialists from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania, are developing a user-friendly software, which will allow to determine readability of urban areas. The readability index comprising of several factors, can be used for determining area safety, for monitoring and modifying usage of city districts, for providing factual information on the qualities of urban spaces.
Today, digital tools are being used literally in every step of our life: from food ordering, parking and plane boarding to voting. With the help of various digital platforms, the discussion about locations for monuments, city areas’ usage or heritage protection tends to involve citizens. The cities become more and more digital worldwide.
“Our software can be used for various purposes: for determining the potential crime level in certain areas, to find the correlations between the visitor flow in urban spaces and readability, and other elements. The tool might be useful when deciding where to place a certain attraction for it to be visited by the optimal number of people, and how to reorganize city structure in order to hide some of its areas”, says professor Kęstutis Zaleckis of KTU Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture.
KTU researchers have installed several alterations into an existing original space syntax model (Hillier, Peponis and others), and now are working on a software, which will enable to transform complex data on urban areas into visual user-friendly information. The method being developed by KTU researchers is normalized, which means that it can be used for comparison of any cities of the world.
Distance, number of windows and territorial boundaries predict safety
“People perceive space not only passively, looking, but also moving in it. Although it is not difficult to determine how far is an object in a range of 100 or 200 meters, the judgment becomes inaccurate if a person needs to turn around the corner. Environmental psychologists claim that if a person needs to turn several times to reach an object, he or she thinks that the distance is longer”, says professor Zaleckis.
The readability index, being developed by KTU researchers provides insight into how people perceive urban areas. According to professor Zaleckis, the low readability areas, which are located at a fair distance, or are not easily reachable, which have small amount of windows and doors, and which are transit spaces rather than closed territories, are perceived as unsafe. Such areas are not attractive to people, the perspective of communal activities there is almost doomed.
The lowest readability is characteristic to block houses’ district, which are a common feature of the post-soviet cities.
“Human beings need to have their own territory to feel safe, this is determined by our nature. If the bloc-house district had cultivated gardens and lawns, the atmosphere and social functions in these areas would change. For example, in America, it is common to have a nicely tended lawn, but not a fence in front of a house”, says the architect, KTU researcher Zaleckis.
Different areas – different lifestyles
KTU team is developing the software of urban areas’ readability based initially on Kaunas (Lithuania) data. Now they have analyzed around 30 cities from various countries and periods of time.
According to urbanists, the readability, and, as a consequence, life different districts of a city are very different. In the old town the most readable areas, which attracted the greatest flows of visitors traditionally were the squares, and this corresponds to the logic of a medieval, quite closed city. Whereas, in the new town, based on the concept of the 19th century urbanism, the streets and crossroads are the most readable.
“The regulations for heritage restoration and conservation, especially in Lithuania, are usually too static: they may have strict rules about how tall the buildings can be, but might not take into account the city dynamics. For example, the widening of the streets in the old town, which makes it similar to the new town and changes the city logic, can be more damaging to the social functioning of the city than the buildings’ height”, says professor Zaleckis.
For any city in the world
The architect, professor Zaleckis is pleased that the discussion about the usage of public city spaces begins to involve the general public. According to him, researchers might be considered as valuable partners in the discussion about urban areas involving municipalities, urban planners and other stakeholders.
“The software, which is being developed by KTU team together with international partners, aims to provide a normalized, globally usable tool for any city in the world. Historical visual information of an urban area can provide inspiration for its reconstruction and city planning projects”, says professor Zaleckis.
KTU researchers are planning to further develop the urban areas’ readability projects together with partners from UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett (United Kingdom), Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands), University of Naples (Italy).
KTU researchers also cooperate with Kaunas 2022: European Capital of Culture 2022 team on the project of revival and promotion of Kaunas modernism heritage.