Toward Utilizing the Technology in Urban Design

The concurrent technology has influenced various expertise and provided opportunities for others so that they can have access to more resources. The technology effects on science positively and pushes them to be impressive advancements. Thus analyzing more complex data with high precision today, is easily achievable for the scientist as well as Urban Designers.

Cities Today

Cities are the most complicated and the biggest invention of human in history. Today more than half of the population of the world live in these areas. These populated cities must possess maximum comfort and benefits. Residents of main cities demand convenient accommodation. As a result application of high technology in various aspect of cities must be a priority.

using technology in urban design
Using new technology in Smart Cities (Photo by Hugh Han)

The Role of Planners and Designers

Urban Planners and Urban Designers must work toward utilization of the technology. Whether their plan is research-based or it is a practical project. Their ultimate target must be taking advantage of this high tech softwares.

Since the 1960s, We can clearly see that computer softwares have been consistently utilized for the purpose of analyzing data, required in architecture and Urban Planning. However, more specifically in Urban Design, this scenario doesn’t have a long record. only recently we have had access to these programs that are tailored particularly for Urban Design.
Urban Designers have used computer software to create three-dimensional models or to stimulate a design in an artificial environment. Then they would use it to represent or depict our model. But we didn’t cautiously use these softwares to analysis the necessary data and crucial measurements in Urban Design.

using technology in urban design

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

New Information Provided Thanks to Technology

Fortunately, in the current years, we are witnessing an increase in the usage of these softwares chiefly due to the presence of more novel tools. These tools have the capability of measuring statistical and analytical aspects of a project with great accuracy. On top of that, these programs provide more information about the actual model.
We are going to introduce these new tools in the upcoming articles. Just briefly it is worth knowing that these programs give us accurate calculation regarding the moisture, temperature degree, amount of dirt and dust, and etc, in the air as well as noise pollution. The scale of These measurements varies from a room to a block to an entire street. These programs are very accessible nowadays to both experts and even common enthusiasts in this field.

using technology in urban design
Spirmo personal air quality tester (Spirmo.com)

This is a turning point for Urban Designers mainly because, in the past, this information was unavailable. Simply it was impossible to calculate factors such as density of moisture from node to node or street to street in each province.
Another beneficial feature is the possibility of having a visual representation of these details and data. Urban Design experts now can record a video of a structure or street by their cellphone and process that by using these programs and get precisely processed and analyzed data. For instance, it is possible to have a time-lapse video of a crowded city and extract the number of passages or a sampled population.

using technology in urban design
Analyzing videos by cell phones video recorder (Datafromsky.com)

Old Theories are Changing

Based on the output of these modern age softwares and the calculation of diverse environmental factors within a space, now we can see that some of the proved theories are rejected or should be adjusted. Today we have this capability to convert those proved claims in favor of our design.
It’s evident that in the past we hadn’t have precis assisting programs that could analyze urban space in great depth. But today by using these new tools that aren’t very expensive we are capable of breaking down the crucial attributes of each meter of an urban space and record them. Moreover, we can have a new understanding of them.

Opportunity for Advancement

The flow of 1960s and 1970s and the approach of those ages for Urban Planning provided them with assisting software. This approach brought a new phase to their work. Today we are experiencing the same revolution in Urban Design. Experts in this domain can take advantages of novel programs in order to alter outdated procedures and lounge for the best outcomes in this field.

Designed features can make cities safer, but getting it wrong can be plain frightening

City planners and designers can help make spaces safer in many ways. One strategy is known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED, pronounced “sep-ted”). This approach is based on the idea that specific built and social environmental features can deter criminal behaviour.

Breaking up smooth surfaces to prevent skateboarders (like this makeover in Melbourne’s Lincoln Square) is hostile architecture. Sasha Petrova, CC BY-SA

Strategies can be as simple as good maintenance, like rapidly removing graffiti, which can deter some offenders.

Another method is to build houses, streets, transport hubs and retail settings in a way that promotes visibility. This can include making windows and entrances of buildings face each other and clever use of lighting. The enhanced visibility this creates is known as “passive surveillance”, which can deter some offenders.

But in some cases design to prevent crime goes too far and creates hostile spaces. Examples of such unfriendly architecture include the use of metal studs or bolts to break up smooth surfaces to discourage skateboarders.

In some countries, spikes have been installed in places where people tend to sleep rough. An extreme example of this is the idea of coin-operated benches with retractable spikes.

Too much security can lead to sterile places no one wants to use. It can also result in locations that exclude certain groups of people, such as the young or the homeless. And some of these principles, if misapplied, can increase crime and fear of crime, reducing quality of life.

Metal studs are used in some places, like in Marseille, France, to deter rough sleepers. Wikimedia Commons

Crime prevention through design

In 1973, architect Oscar Newman led a ground-breaking study comparing two New York social housing projects. Van Dyke (a high-rise building) had crime rates more than double those of Brownsville (a low-rise building). Given the similarity in populations, Newman argued the physical design of the buildings could explain this difference in crime.

This was the beginning of crime prevention through environmental design – a set of design principles now used, and sometimes mandated, in cities around the world, including Australia. These principles were used in the Perth City Link project, reconnecting the central business district with the entertainment district by sinking the railway line.

 

Public spaces were designed to be overlooked by users of surrounding buildings and spaces. Locations and activities in the area were connected by wide and highly visible pathways, CCTV was installed and lighting levels optimised to promote the use of pathways and spaces after dark.

Use of crime prevention principles is wide and varied. Examples range from installing signage to show ownership and deter outsiders, to installing better locks, doors and windows. Another strategy is to use permeable fences that provide barriers to access without compromising visibility between buildings and the street.

Keeping a place well maintained and looking friendly (like this space in Korea that underwent a makeover) can make people feel safer. Screenshot YouTube

Studies show these principles, when applied appropriately, can be successful. In the Netherlands, the risk of residential burglary fell by 95% in new estates and 80% in existing homes after these ideas were implemented as a wider wave of crime prevention in the late 1980s.

Similarly, in the UK several studies have shown significant reductions in crime through using principles such as building houses to face each other and the use of permeable fencing and managing foliage to maximise visibility. Retail crime has also been reduced by, for instance, configuring and reducing the height of aisles so staff can see them more easily.

Hostile design

Like all good ideas, designing to prevent crime can, in some cases, cause harm. Failure to assess crime risks before implementing solutions can result in poor outcomes that don’t deal with the local issues, which can make these worse and waste resources. This has been labelled as the “dark side” of design.

Skateboarders can no longer skate around Lincoln Square, in Melbourne, because of these metal bolts and the rough brick surface. Sasha Petrova, CC BY-SA

Building a large wall around a religious building based on a perceived crime risk, for instance, might not be the best response. This is particularly the case if, when the crime risks are analysed, the building has only suffered incidents of minor graffiti. The expensive wall then needlessly divides the community and provides a blank canvas for more graffiti.

Then there’s what is called hostile or defensive architecture. This is often used to discourage certain groups, which are often not actual criminals, from using specific spaces.

Examples include:

  • metal studs and bolts to break up smooth surfaces and discourage skateboarders
  • the “mosquito” sound device that emits a high-pitched frequency to repel gathering youths
  • loud music (often classical) to discourage lingering of certain groups
  • pink lights that accentuate acne to discourage youths from congregating in certain spaces
  • water sprinklers that don’t really water anything
  • spikes to deter rough sleepers
  • barriers placed around hot air vents to exclude or discourage rough sleeping or excessive lingering.
Coin-operated retractable spikes on benches, as shown in this art installation, could be the next step in hostile architecture.

How can we use the principles better?

There are certainly benefits to using design elements to make people feel safer. But these design principles are not outcomes. Reducing crime should be a process where a risk assessment of crime comes first, and the solution of dealing with it comes in response to this.

In NSW, it’s mandatory to include a report assessing new large developments against principles of crime prevention through environment design. Crime risk assessment is part of this process, which should be a positive outcome. But such assessments are generally inconsistent, incomplete, too generic and of poor quality. One reason is because it’s difficult to obtain up-to-date crime data at the scale required to assess a small location.

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