Open planning: Qualification of urban space parameters from end user’s perspective

Oto Nováček


Cities are an economic and social phenomenon reflecting accelerating effects, as projected in their space and structure. With the advent of the information age and technological progress, the city has acquired a new attribute: the- smart city. The impact of innovation on every aspect of the current city is clear. Whether it be changes in behaviour, economics, or the administration and planning of the city, technologies, especially in communication, are changing our view of how the current city should be perceived, planned and managed. The planning process should be shaped primarily by democratic, people-centred values: their rights, but also their responsibilities.

In recent decades many scientists (Jacobs, Hilier, Lynch, Gehl, Whyte, and others) have addressed the issue of the functionality of the city’s spaces and structures, as well as the development of methods for how to evaluate it, in an effort to ensure the city a higher quality of life. Breakthrough changes in thinking and views of the city came mainly in the 1960s, as marked by several movements. These theoretical works can be classified into three basic scientific disciplines: the social sciences, urban sciences, and most recently urban computing.

People are inexorably interconnected with the urban environment, and in using the city spaces they create its content. The dualism of this relationship calls for a more consistent development of a more complex connection between human and space. An essential factor is the context that determines the individuality of a place. For this reason, it is desirable to observe, in addition to localization factors and the physical properties of urban structures, the influences on their use and on social interaction of intangible values. Information about human interactions with space can help architects and designers design urban spaces to stimulate positive emotions.

Therefore, the parameters of a place must be perceived in the correlation of its tangible and intangible characteristics. It is necessary to be aware of the fact that the parameters of quality lie not only in tangible elements of space, but also qualities as perceived by people. Based on international research verified in practice, certain urban performance indices have already been introduced to assess sustainability, accessibility, and morphological features. This work aims to contribute to the discourse on quantifying cognitive evaluation of spaces by evaluating the results of empirical research. These are based on evaluating the perception of positive and negative aspects of the cities of Bratislava and Košice (sample of about 1,200 respondents).

The research works with outputs from the Emotion Maps platform, a tool for participatory city planning and a form of empirical research. This tool facilitates the active involvement of citizens in the collection of information and opinions, about the city and its public spaces and buildings. Such geographically located answers give a more detailed end-user overview of how public spaces of a given city are perceived. Empirical surveys relevant to the paper were conducted from March 2018 to May 2019.

The emotional mapping outputs were subjected to spatial analysis and sentiment analysis. Spatial analysis was evaluated using geographic information systems (GIS), specifically the freeware program QGIS, working with the heatmap function. Sentiment was analyzed using software for data analysis and visualization, in this case Microsoft Power BI.

Spatial analysis showed that most of the stated inputs are concentrated in the significant areas of the wider centre of both cities, which was the expected result. Another common denominator of both cities is a considerable spatial dispersion of positive comments, which greatly influences the positive impact of the environment (water and greenery) on the perception of the population. The analysis, on the other hand, depicted a concentration of negatively perceived areas, especially in the wider centre of both cities, mainly by traffic nodes (crossings, transport stations, etc), as well as squares and similar nodes.

In the sentiment analysis, the nouns appearing in comments were divided by similarity of meaning into seven categories: 1.) Environment and nature, 2.) Dominant features, architecture and aesthetics, 3.) Health, safety and comfort, 4.) Social dimension and activities, 5.) Transport and infrastructure, 6.) Elements of public space, and 7.) Equipment and services. These categories define and rank the parts or elements of the city that people pay the most attention to according to the number of nouns occurring.

The analysis shows that spaces in both cities provide an adequate amount and quality of natural areas, and the public is impressed by the design and architecture of both cities and their social dimension and room for activities. Among the most negatively perceived aspects in both cities is Transport and infrastructure, which confirms the assumption of the relatively low quality of spaces for pedestrian or bicycle movement.

The conclusion is devoted to the concept of Open Planning, which aims to combine the empirical knowledge of city construction that has evolved over the centuries with the possibilities offered by digital technologies. The basis should be such parameters as could be compared and weighted according to the preference of the predominant development, functional use, or nature of the space. Currently, the biggest problem is in static and inflexible master planning processes (zoning). An appropriate openness can be achieved in the future by combining data analysis (in real time) with subsequent simulation of the impact of intervention according to set parameters. Analyses from geographically located questionnaires, or similar surveys, could be used as a basis for an index of user quality. Agent Based Modelling, as an experimental system based on the creation of synthetic users of space, could become an element in verifying the whole process.

Keywords: spatial planning, emotional mapping, open planning, measurability, environmental quality