Quantifying City Affordances

As GPS and mobile devices and information technology have become more widespread, behavioral information and location information can now be polled from a range of sources. Utilizing this information in the field of urban planning may allow for discovering what elements make for attractive and appealing cities. This project was performed in conjunction with the Advanced Design Studies (T-ADS) group at the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo, and the University of Tsukuba. We performed an experiment in which we utilized movement and behavioral data from people visiting a city to develop a methodology for quantitatively assessing the charms of that city.

T-ADS led an event in which participants toured a city by rental bicycles equipped with GPS devices. Over the course of a two hour and thirty-minute time limit (with no limitation on range of movement, and movement as a group permitted), participants toured the city and were then asked to respond to a questionnaire about what they found appealing. GPS data was used to obtain information on frequency of detours, change of direction, and time spent. This was then analyzed to find a correlation between the “roamability” of a city and questionnaire responses regarding degree of affinity for that city.

The way people behave and feel in a city is implicated in the affordances of that city. According to the ecological psychology developed by James J. Gibson, human perception is not calculated within the brain, but rather a form of exploration of information in the environment. Data obtained from the city is retrieved as GPS data and embedded in the system. This is both third and first person information in nature. This approach implies an ALIFE-informed view of a living city (i.e., the city as not describable in merely objective terms).