Unlocking Street Ambience Secrets

We use global data in our research to describe the ideal functions of a main road. This was achieved by creating a system abstraction hierarchy that allows the main street to function as a complex interdependent system at multiple levels.

To date, the project has described hundreds of Main Street components within one model. The project allows us to examine the impact of various technical or quantitative measures such as “economic diversity,” as well as the influence and results of subjective criteria like “liveability.”

Why is this important? Successful redevelopment is dependent on unlocking the complexity of urban systems and understanding how and why they work. Our research examines this complexity, with a particular focus on the redevelopment of downtown main streets.

Is infill really needed?

According to our global survey, professionals in the built environment agree that these urban centers should be developed into connected, cultural, and economic hubs that are safe and healthy places for people.

Urban renewal is becoming more urgent. Urban sprawl is not enough to accommodate the rapid urbanization that the world’s population will experience.

In 1800, only 2% of global residents lived in urban areas. Today, 54%. By 2050, it is expected to be closer than 65%, with 6.5 billion people in cities around the world.

It is necessary to develop new ways of understanding urban land and infrastructure and the best way to use them. UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign, a recent publication, called for comprehensive system approaches to developing cities. In our research, we are looking at better ways to build infill on main streets.

What is the purpose of a street system?

Few urban design guidelines provide solutions to the problem of ambiance. From a systems point of view, however, we can determine that ambiance is the result of many processes and physical items.

What is the best way to create a subjective atmosphere?

In the diagram below, for example, we are “interested” in ambiance. The data show us “how” to achieve it optimally through many factors, including screening, greenery and illumination, aesthetic appeal, surfaces and surfaces for playing, meeting and waiting places, street food, drinks and entertainment, and human activity.

As we move on to values and measurements, it becomes clear “why” an atmosphere is important for a main road: to reduce light and noise pollution and traffic volume, as well as to improve liveability, air quality, and safety.

Identification of all elements of ambiance within a systems-based approach to city planning. Nick Patorniti is the author.

The data also tells us that the top model is a system where ambience plays a major role in social, perceptional quality, and environmental functional purposes.

We can see at the bottom which physical objects were identified by the data as necessary for creating ambiance. Shade trees, special lighting, seating areas, information signs, and street performers, for example, all contribute to the atmosphere.

Lanjaron is a beautiful town in Granada. The authorities were thoughtful enough to install a sunshade along the main street. Simon Harrod/Flickr, CC BY

This main street system has 142 functional components that are related to its purpose.

This research provides new knowledge about the real happenings in complex urban settings. This research has allowed a holistic understanding of the urban system, bringing together many different knowledge silos, such as architecture and urban design, engineering, transportation planning, and economics.

This model can be used to “health-check” a main street or even guide its redesign. This approach can be used to identify which parts are not needed or require upgrading, as well as what factors need to remain for optimal functionality.

How can we measure the failure of a system without knowing its purpose and what it is we want?

These observations are common sense.

Unfortunately, city design is not currently subjected to this level of scrutiny. The city design process fails to take into account all elements and their subsequent effects, both good and bad.

Systemic approaches allow for targeted interventions to optimize cities and identify potential infill development. It helps to understand the components and how they work together. This new information provides insight into the various elements that go into giving the city an “update.”

Our cities’ future success depends on our ability to understand the complexity of global urbanization.

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