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What Makes Us Think It's a City?

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This paper explores the way the morphological and topological properties of built environments are perceived by people. We present a survey that examines how different artificial environments are perceived, and to what extent (if any) they resemble urban environments. For that, we developed a series of artificial environments, based on scripts that control the formation and distribution of different attributes on a plateau that represents an urban environment. We employed two basic street-networks: a non-orthogonal network and an orthogonal grid. In addition, we used two different size distributions that obey either powerlaw distributions (with different exponents) or Poisson distributions (with different values of λ). Our findings show that the mental images we have regarding urban environments are different for different representations of the environments (2D/3D). We also discovered considerable differences between the way people with or without an educational background in planning perceive and conceptualize urban environments. Lastly, we found that orthogonal street-grid and powerlaw distributions of sizes are the strongest predictors of the similarity of an environment to an urban one. The combination between them suggests that what forms the mental image of the city in our minds is not a single feature, but the combination between top-down (the orthogonal grid) and bottom-up processes (the power-law distribution).
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 June 2018

More about this publication?
  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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