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Designing cities for humans

Baggs, E; Chemero, A; Penn, A; (2019) Designing cities for humans. In: Proceedings of the 12th International Space Syntax Symposium (12SSS). Space Syntax Symposium: Beijing, China. Green open access

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In recent years, cognitive scientists have increasingly recognized the importance of conceptualizing cognition as a process that goes on not in an abstract mental realm, but in the physical encounter between a lived body and a structured physical environment. We here propose that this radical embodied view of cognition is uniquely well equipped to serve as a theoretical framework in urban design. Specifically, we offer an overview of the perceptual psychology of James J. Gibson. We then apply his theory to the analysis of a series of road intersections. According to Gibson’s concept of affordances, actors perceive the world in terms of relations that arise between specific structures in the environment and complementary physical capacities in the actor’s body. A key insight for urban design is that there are asymmetries between actors in terms of the threats and opportunities that arise as a consequence of their ongoing movement: a person driving a car affords a threat of injury to a pedestrian or a cyclist’s body in a way that does not hold in the opposite direction. We show that successful urban road intersections can be evaluated in terms of the difficulty people face in carrying out specific tasks, such as crossing the road. Accessible spaces should minimize the number of asymmetrical encounters with more-threatening road users. This is best achieved by arranging the environment so as to constrain the opportunities for threatening interactions to arise. Finally, we argue that the affordance concept, properly construed, offers a mechanism for connecting space syntax’s global analysis of spaces with the first-person lived perspective of an individual moving around in that space.

Type: Proceedings paper
Title: Designing cities for humans
Event: 12th International Space Syntax Symposium (12SSS)
Location: Beijing, China
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://www.12sssbeijing.com/proceedings/download.p...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the version of record. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Spatial cognition, embodied cognition, ecological psychology, affordances, tasks
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > The Bartlett School of Architecture
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10079478
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