Affordance as a concept relates to studies on the perceived functional significance of an object, event, or place for an individual, and the resulting understanding of how public spaces can provide opportunities for people to engage with their environment for different intentional purposes. For example, seating can be designed in such a way that it becomes manipulated by users, or other objects can become improvised seating.
Public realm schemes are being introduced in urban areas without the usual delineation between the footway and carriageway provided by kerb edges. Concern has been expressed about the resulting spaces on behalf of the approximately two million people in the UK who are blind or visually impaired. This paper questions these concerns and presents the results from a questionnaire and in-depth interviews, and observational studies of blind and visually impaired people navigating in urban streets and spaces with and without shared surfaces. They show that blind and visually impaired people can identify many different surface types and delineators, and they use these, along with other features of the urban environment, in creative ways to identify their location and guide themselves. Shared Space schemes need to preserve a safe area for pedestrians, they need to provide a rich physical environment of contrasts in terms of surface tactility, colour contrast, and the enhancement of sound and other sensory clues.
This paper is drawn from a larger research project exploring young people, leisure activities and alcohol consumption. The study draws on the concept of affordances from environmental psychology as a way of framing the debate of what young people need in neighbourhood parks. Parks are important to this age group since they provide a setting for physical activity, relaxation and social interaction. However, human development at this life stage also includes indulging in experimental and/or deviant behaviour. In the eyes of the young people involved, however, their behaviour is mostly benign, even if/when it causes conflict with other users. Furthermore, they often take particular measures to avoid other age groups (defined in environmental psychology as ‘retreat’) and while often voluntary, it may also be enforced. The research suggests that while the park is the most important place for this age group to socialise outside the home, young people themselves often feel poorly provided for and unwelcome. The fact that they adopt what they find in parks to suit their needs is motivated by interconnecting aspirations, perceptions and needs. Developing a more sophisticated understanding of these issues may lead to more appropriate and satisfactory design for all users.
Definitions of environmental child friendliness offer broad criteria that are not easy to study or assess. We suggest that due to this broadness, these definitions have produced surprisingly few attempts to evaluate how child-friendly various types of physical environments are. The purpose of this study is to analyse how the structure of the built environment contributes to environmental child friendliness. We define child friendliness by two central criteria: children’s possibilities for independent mobility and their opportunities to actualize environmental affordances. We study how built environment qualities condition environmental child friendliness in place-based ways by asking children and youth in Turku, Finland, to tell about their meaningful places and their mobility to these. The data consists of over 12,000 affordances, localized by the respondents. This experiential and behavioural place-based knowledge is combined with objectively measured data on residential and building density, and quantity of green structures. Moderate urban density seems to have child-friendly characteristics such as an ability to promote independent access to meaningful places and the diversity of affordances. We find that affordances situated on residential areas are likely to be reached alone, whereas access to affordances situated in densely built urban cores is less independent. The proportion of green structures is not associated with independent access. The diversity of affordances is highest in areas that are densely populated and not very green. Green areas are important settings for doing things, and green structures around emotional affordances increase the likelihood of liking the place significantly. Combining children’s place-based experiences with information derived from objective measurable qualities of the physical environment provides a valuable methodological contribution to studies on environmental child friendliness, and the two proposed criteria of child friendliness are supported by this study. There is no one environment that is child-friendly, but different environments have different uses and meanings.
Building on Whyte’s work on livable places, the present study developed a four-item scale to assess visitability and used it to test whether three attributes identified by Whyte—seating, food, and triangulation—increase visit- ability.The study used color slides of three plazas altered for the presence or absence of each attribute. Sixty participants (23 men and 37 women) rated slides of the plazas on each of four items on the Perceived Visitability Scale (PVS). The four items had high interitem reliability, and each item and their composite had high interobserver reliability.The visitability ratings showed that plazas with seats, food, or sculpture had higher scores than plazas without those elements; and the combination of seats and sculpture had higher scores than either element alone. Contradicting Whyte, there was no statistically significant effect of gender. Seats, sculpture, and the perceived compatibility of elements with one another may improve plaza visitability.
Journal of Architectural and Planning Research (2001)
This study investigated influences of residential street layout on neighboring. The study design was quasi-experimental with one pretest and two posttest measurements in an intervention group and two control groups. Data were collected using a recently developed questionnaire (MMN) and through field observations. The intervention implemented in this study was a transformation of three sections of residential streets into street parks, entailing considerable changes in street floor and spatial layout, provisions of street furniture like benches, planting of trees and flower beds, installation of play equipment, and prohibition of traffic and parked vehicles. Supportive acts of neighboring, neighbor annoyance, and children's play showed an overall increase in the intervention streets, interpreted as a sign of increased involvement in the neighborhood. Weak social ties and neighborhood attachment showed more complex patterns of changes, depending on demographic factors. It is suggested that symbolic effects of the changes may be more significant than functional effects, and thus that a change of neighborhood identity is an important mechanism.
Studies of seasonal barriers for outdoor activities seldom view families’ play practices as grounded in the everyday experience of the natural elements. This paper brings 20 families’ mundane outdoor play ex- periences in Auckland's temperate climate to the fore. Through drawings and interviews, families re- siding in both suburban detached houses and central city apartments revealed locally constituted beliefs about appropriate play spaces (e.g. garden, park). While the majority of participants retreated to indoor activities during winter, some children and their parents viewed the outdoors as the only opportunity for ‘real fun’. We advocate the importance of a better understanding of children's seasonal outdoor play. In particular, we argue that in order to promote year-round healthy levels of outdoor activities it is ne- cessary to understand variations in societal, neighbourhood and family values attributed to outdoor activities. Further, to develop a more nuanced understanding of the locational complexities of outdoor play it is important to understand the meanings of, and practices associated with, seasonal and weather conditions in different international locations.
The paper explores the extent to which inhabitants of Abu Dhabi find ways circumvent official notions of order as it pertains to the use of open public spaces in the city. To that effect, the study focuses on informal modes of urbanity examining and mapping various forms of informal activities that still persist in the city. The study relies on field research carried out in Abu Dhabi's central area, content analysis of media reports, and interviews with officials and city residents. This will be contextualized and situated within the overall urban development Abu Dhabi. These contemporary modes of informal urbanism will be mapped through a survey of the city's public spaces. A series of vignettes offers a portrayal of the diverse ways in which residents have constructed an alternative order. The overall aim is to construct a 'narrative of informality'—a view from below offering a more substantive assessment of people's interaction with, and relation to, the built environment. The paper begins with a theoretical framework aiming at situating the study within the overall discourse known as 'informal urbanism' the study of the everyday which, while prevalent to various degrees within urban theory, has been receiving renewed emphasis. The overall value for mapping activities both at the level of urban theory and for the urban development of Dhabi is discussed in the conclusion.
Urban design scholars denounce the recent trend towards the privatization of US public space. Critics emphasize the negative consequences of privatized public space, tied to private ownership, an emphasis on consumption, leisure and security, a targeted audience, and controlled behaviour and design. Yet these key qualities of privatized public spaces have meaning only in the context of one's identity. The same qualities shape experiences of privatized public spaces that can be understood as constrained, as constraining or as a form of resistance, depending on one's gender, race, class and sexuality. This paper challenges the prevailing design critique by examining women's experience of privatized public spaces, drawing on interviews with 43 middle- class women and behavioural mapping in five privatized public spaces in Orange County, California. Recommendations address changes to research and practice to better reflect and accommodate diverse experiences of public space.
Baran, P. K., Smith, W. R., Moore, R. C., Floyd, M. F., Bocarro, J. N., Cosco, N. G., & Danninger, T. M.
This article examines park use in relation to neighborhood social (safety and poverty) and urban form (pedestrian infrastructure and street network pattern) characteristics among youth and adult subpopulations defined by age and gender. We utilized System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) and Geographic Information Systems to objectively measure park use and park and neighborhood characteristics in 20 neighborhood parks. Heterogeneous negative binomial regression models indicated that the relationship between park use and types of activity settings, and park use and neighborhood attributes vary by age and gender. In general, the study found that park and activity setting size; activity settings such as playgrounds, basketball courts, pool and water features, shelters, and picnic areas; and availability of sidewalks and intersections in the park’s neighborhood were positively associated with park use, whereas crime, poverty, and racial heterogeneity of the surrounding neighborhood were negatively associated with park use.
Journal of the American Planning Association (2016)
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Madeline Brozen, Lin Chen & Lené Levy-Storms
Problem, research strategy, and findings: Parks provide important physiological and psychological benefi ts to seniors, improving their quality of life; they are particularly important for low-income, inner-city seniors who lack access to open and green space. However, seniors do not often use parks partly because park design and programming are not responsive to their diverse needs and values. To identify what low-income, inner-city seniors seek and value in neighborhood parks, and to provide guidance to planners on how to better design senior-friendly parks, we conducted a literature review and held focus groups with 39 low-income, ethnically diverse seniors in an inner-city neighborhood in Los Angeles (CA). We asked these seniors about their preferences as well as the challenges and barriers they encounter in using neighborhood parks. Seniors report many impediments to park use; they are not provided appropriate programming that allows opportunities for socializing, safety, and security within the park and along access routes; opportunities for exercise and walking; and aesthetic and natural elements that provide contact with nature.Takeaway for practice: Park planners and designers should seek to incorporate senior voices in park design and programming in four ways by developing appropriate programming sensitive to diverse needs, accommodating the desire for �seniors-only� parks, promoting security and safety in the park and along access routes, and offering open and green space. We also fi nd the need for additional research on seniors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Jacquelin Burgess, Carolyn M. Harrison & Melanie Limb
Contemporary provision of open spaces within cities rests largely on professional assumptions about its significance in the lives of residents. This paper presents results from the Greenwich Open Space Project which used qualitative research with four, in-depth discussion groups to determine the design of a questionnaire survey of households in the borough. The research shows that the most highly valued open spaces are those which enhance the positive qualities of urban life: variety of opportunities and physical settings; sociability and cultural diversity. The findings lend some support to the approach of the urban conservation movement but present a fundamental challenge to the open-space hierarchy embodied in the Greater London Development Plan. The Project identifies a great need for diversity of both natural settings and social facilities within local areas and highlights the potential of urban green space to improve the quality of life of all citizens.
Public art is an artistic expression created in streets, squares and other public spaces, including parks. Using the two popular public parks in the New York City, Central Park and the High Line, this paper explores the affordances offered by public art in these two urban environments, with a focus on physical, intellectual and emotional connections between the visitor, the artwork and the landscape setting. Using affordance theory as a framework, it considers the design of the landscape as a behaviour setting that affords viewing, acknowledgement and reflection of the artwork within the contemporary cultural context. Using preliminary qualitative observations of six artworks within the two parks, this research suggests that public art has the potential to afford such diverse opportunities for public park visitors. In order for these affordances to be actualised, the design of the park and the artwork’s intentions should be coordinated to ensure that the experiences of the visitor align with the claimed benefits of public art.
The current deployment of large screens in city centre public spaces requires a substantial rethinking of our understanding of the relationship of media to urban space. Drawing on a case study of the Public Space Broadcasting project launched in the UK in 2003, this article argues that large screens have the potential to play a significant role in promoting public interaction. However, the realization of this potential requires a far-reaching investigation of the role of media in the construction of complex public spaces and diverse public cultures.
Women's use of public space has been the subject of much recent research. Existing theory in environment-behavior studies is inadequate to explain these findings. This paper proposes the adoption of the feminist theory of the 'ethic of care' to synthesize and explain much existing research on women's experience of public space. The ethic of care is a model of moral development in which the highest moral imperative requires taking care of needs and sustaining relationships. This paper examines how the ethic of care creates constraints for women's use of public space, by encouraging women to put others first and by reinforcing women's primary responsibility for care-giving. The ethic of care constrains women's use of public space through the association of women with low status `caring' occupations, and through actions that extend restrictive caring to women. At the same time, through women's use of public space, the ethic of care generates possibilities for women to give and receive care from others and themselves, and creates possibilities for extending care to encompass public spaces. The ethic of care is explored in detail in light of two areas of environment-behavior research on women and public spaces: preference and fear of crime. In conclusion, the paper advocates the ethic of care as a framework for future activism, design, and scholarship concerning public spaces.
Models of urban planning after authoritarian modernism raise the question of democratic control over the city and the possibility of imagining as a collective act. The paper examines systemic hindrances to free-thinking, and thus free-acting, embedded in urban communities. Through the case study of recent work by the art collective Department of Play, it illustrates the rationale for engaging public imagination specifically via play as world-building; and it posits the potential implications and limits of such activity as an intervention into city planning processes. Interested in liminal spaces between territory, language and social affiliation, the collective advances an agenda of productive dissent in public space through play and performance. Department of Play begins from the position that we can only plan that which we imagine, and thus exists as an effort to free the public imagination from modes of thinking dictated by the capitalist context.
Journal of the American Planning Association (2012)
Annette M. Kim
Problem, research strategy, and findings: Around the globe, streets and sidewalks in cities are being contested as spaces that should be used for more than transportation. This article challenges our understanding of both property rights and public space by applying a property rights framework to situate sidewalk use debates. It analyzes and maps the sidewalk property regimes of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, through a novel integration of surveying and ethnography. The case illuminates the feasibility of a mixed-use sidewalk that can be shared between various kinds of uses and users. A mixed-use sidewalk that is both cooperative and livable is possible if planners incorporate time into planning space in order to expand the sidewalk's flexibility and if local society can renarrate and enforce new legitimacies on the sidewalk. Takeaway for practice: Sidewalk space deserves more attention as an important public space. In our era of historic urbanization, we should reconceive sidewalks as a mixed-use space rather than an exclusively pedestrian zone. Moreover, North American planners would benefit from engaging with public space experiments happening in cities in the developing world. Research support: This research was supported by MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
This paper presents findings from a research project aimed at understanding children’s perceptions of play spaces, with an emphasis on safety and fun. Six places that were considered by the respondents of the first-stage research as having both attributes of safety and fun were observed. The findings show that these spaces are generally separated from motor vehicles and the child and adult users of these spaces show socially acceptable behaviours and a positive response toward children’s outdoor play. Nevertheless, the findings also point out the significant differences in the characteristics of the safe and fun play spaces in Tokyo, Japan, and Bandung, Indonesia, in terms of their user behaviour, space availability, play affordances and availability of natural elements.
Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg defines a third place as a place of refuge other than the home or workplace where people can regularly visit and commune with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers. Because little is known about the place-based physical qualities of third places that support sociability and place attachment, this article examines how four urban design characteristics distinguish third-place businesses from other businesses on the Main Street. The article discusses a study conducted at Main Streets in two cities and one town in Massachusetts. As part of the study, visual surveys measured urban design qualities of businesses on the Main Streets, and interviews helped determine user perceptions. The findings suggest that third places are relatively high in both personalization (distinctiveness, recognizability) and permeability to the street, but seating and shelter provisions are perhaps the most crucial urban design characteristics that contribute to sociability on the Main Street.
In this study we examine the spatial practices and lived experiences of an understudied subgroup, observant Muslim women of Arab descent, to explore the extent to which they experience representation and inclusion in the context of Brooklyn, New York. In an attempt to provide a more in-depth understanding of space, we utilize a phenomenological approach in which gender is central. We conceptualize our analysis based on Lefebvre’s spatial triad. The narratives of the women in this study elucidate how they interpret and navigate publicly accessible urban spaces as women marked by both ethnicity and religious difference in a multicultural city such as New York. Our study finds that the physical accessibility of public spaces, the aspect that planners tend to emphasize, matters for the observant Muslim women in this study both in ways with which planners are familiar and in other ways. The main aspects of physical accessibility that facilitated
their sense of inclusion and engagement in Bay Ridge public spaces are the ease of getting around, often called ‘walkability’ in planning circles, the extent of access to mass transit, and the types of destinations in the area. Streetlights and the openness of public spaces were also critical to participants’ lived experiences, as was the presence of a number of women wearing the Islamic headscarf. The latter enabled participants to become active actors in space because they marked a place as culturally, religiously, and socially appropriate for them. Participants’ lived experiences (representational space) in turn shaped and were shaped by the characteristics of physical space. For example, well-lit open spaces enabled their spatial engagement because this made them visible to the community and at the same time allowed them to see the community. For immigrant women the Arabic landscape of the neighborhood marked by the Arabic signage, the Arabic language being spoken, and women wearing the Islamic headscarf provided them an opportunity to communicate with other women who share their cultural and religious values (spatial practice), and thereby to experience a safe space of normalcy (representational space).