How smart are smart cities?

The use of the term “smart city” can mean different things to different people. Perhaps using the perspective of accessibility as a measure of liveability is one way to find out how smart a city is. In the introduction to Urban and Building Accessibility Diagnosis using ‘Accessibility App’ in Smart Cities: A Case Study  the authors say, “One of the most important aspects that influence the liveability of cities is the ability to be an inclusive city. Thus, Smart Cities require an inclusive urban life, and they are characterized by being accessible cities”.  The article describes a method of using ICT to analyse and diagnose the accessibility of buildings and urban environment. In applying the methodology, one feature emerged many times as an issue – heavy doors. The method is explained in detail.

The article is by Raquel Pérez-delHoyo, María Dolores Andújar-Montoya, Higinio Mora
and Virgilio Gilart-Iglesias, and was downloaded from ResearchGate.  


Neuroscience for Architecture

A handful of architects and designers are now looking at design from the perspective of how the brain responds to the built environment. Amelia Taylor-Hochberg begins her article about the evolution of neuroscience with,

” “I know it when I see it,” the crucial phrase used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe “hardcore” pornography in a landmark 1964 obscenity case, may very handily be applied in the disciplines of architecture and urban design. Operating in the necessarily messy environment of cities, architects and urban designers are trained to recognize and create environments that support functional, thriving human lives. For the most part, that education is geared toward the aesthetic and the sociological – observation, theoretical texts and case studies help inform students of what makes quality urbanism, so that they may become the trusted professionals who can say with authority, “I know it when I see it.” But a particular slice of the design academy craves a more scientific, evidence-based approach – and believe that the holy grail of quantitative rigor is just emerging, in the form of neuroscience.”

With more recognition of people with different cognitive approaches, and conditions such as acquired brain injury, research into neuroscience and the built environment is now essential for inclusive world.


Housing and neighbourhood: perceptions of age-friendliness

UPicture taken at twilight of a building with the name New Town Plaza with Chinese characters underneath. There is a large paved area in the foreground and a few people near the buildingsing focus groups and a survey, researchers looked at perceptions of age-friendliness in an established Hong Kong new town, which may not be that new as they started building them in 1950s. They looked at homes and the neighbourhood. The title is: A study of housing typology and perceived age-friendliness in an established Hong Kong new town: A person-environment perspective. Perceptions of the built environment can make a difference in terms of feeling welcome and able to get out and about, and to prevent isolation. You will need institutional access for a free read from Science Direct.

Abstract: Our study examines older people’s perceptions towards the urban environment and their spatial experiences through a person-environment perspective. We argue that Person-Environment (P-E) fit is critical to older people’s quality of life: positive environmental stimuli and personal adaptation competence have been held to influence this fit, and quality of fit will eventually affect interactions between older people and place. In a mixed-methods study, a context sensitive place audit was applied to a new town in Hong Kong, with a view to identifying strengths and weaknesses in the built environment and older people’s own strategies of living. Through 302 questionnaires and three focus groups with older participants, the results revealed high appreciation of outdoor spaces, transportation and social participation. The findings also indicate a strong association between housing typology and perceived age-friendliness. People accommodated in public housing estates tended to accord higher scores to their living environment although social exclusion was identified among oldest-old respondents in particular. Older people’s affective links with their living environment across time and their unique life-course experiences may help to explain their relatively relaxed attitudes when they face changes and hardships.  


Keeping everyone active in urban space

landscape view of tower buildings in the distance and green parkland in the foregroundNew ideas are evolving on ways to activate public space. Formal and informal spaces are discussed in Activating Public Space: How to Promote Physical Activity in Urban Environments by Malgorzata Kostrzewska. Examples used are from Australia, UK, and Poland. In the latter part of the article the author discusses design ideas for activating space. Controversially, the she says design should be based on tolerance rather than exclusion of unwanted behaviours, “Instead of introducing numerous prohibitive signs (against skateboarding, parkour, ball games, etc.), it is better to seek a compromise concerning terms of use of the space specified by all the stakeholders in the course of workshop meetings and their participation in the design process. The compromise solutions already in existence (e.g. in Warsaw) confirm that if all the parties acknowledge their respective needs, they will understand and respect each other.” The conclusion section lists the most important spatial features to consider in any urban design.    


Why do they keep designing stuff like that?

Woman with a baby stroller using the platform lift to get onto the raised bus stop platform .The bus stop is a tube shaped shelterThe Universalising Design website has an interesting article, Negotiating Place: The Challenge of Inclusive Design. The article highlights the concept of place as being unequal – many places are designed in ways that keep certain people out. It begins with a quote from an access consultant, “In my more miserable moments I think we’ll never get it right, and people just ignore it, and building control officers don’t implement it, and we still see buildings where somebody says it’s accessible, and it’s not accessible at all. We’re still designing public spaces with cobbles, brand new public spaces with cobbles and seats that have got no arms or backrests, and they don’t understand that an older person can’t get up off a concrete stone bench. Why do they keep designing stuff like that?” 

The author, Charlotte Bates, makes good points, including the one that many of us know: even when you design something to be inclusive, it is overridden by contractors who focus on time and money. So there is no guarantee the end result will be accessible. Very readable article.


Urban psychology on the streets

Three young people wearing headsets are looking at their smartphones in an outdoor settingColin Ellard outlines the work of the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Using devices for either tracking eye movements or heart rates, students took their research to the streets. They measured responses to features such as green space, visual complexity and interaction with traffic. The article is titled, A new agenda for urban psychology: out of the laboratory and into the streets.  In his summary, the author argues that with the expansion of urban centres across the globe, being able to live healthily and comfortably, we must also consider our mental health as well as any other physical attributes.

The Laboratory’s mission is “to explore the connection between individual psychology and urban design in order to elaborate the principles that might contribute to psychological resilience and wellbeing in the urban environment”.  


Sustainability from an ergonomic perspective

Aerial view of a city with tall buildings. It is a black and white photo with bright green overlay on some of the buildingsThe focus of sustainability has been on energy efficiency and all things “green”. But sustainability should have a broader context argues Erminia Attaianese. She claims that this narrow focus is paradoxical as maximising the building’s efficiency is not always maximising the comfort and efficiency of the building’s occupants. Taking a human ergonomic approach to design, the author argues for a better outcome for both the building and its users. Note, the paper looks as if it has been through a poor translation and is not easy to read. But the conclusions at the end are clear enough. The title of the paper is, Ergonomics of Built Environment i.e. How Environmental Design Can Improve Human Performance and Well-Being in a Framework of Sustainability

Abstract: Ambient conditions in buildings are called to assure a delicate balance between environmental pressure and a so variable human response, the first expressed by the level and the combination of different environmental stimuli from physical factors, the second elicited by a wide range of individual capacities activated by people to cope and to elaborate those stimuli. Ergonomic /Human Factors approach is crucial in design of a physical space intended as an environmental support for users performance and comfort, since it provides theoretical principles, data and methods for understanding the interactions among humans and other elements of whatever system, and for identifying how conditions are able to make that system really fitting its users’ needs and expectancies. Starting from an overview about effects on occupants of buildings physical factors, the paper summarizes principles of ergonomic design of built environment, for tending to sustainable and really supportive living environments for people.