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The role of space in the emergence of conceived urban areas

Abstract

A city is usually made up of numerous different named areas but how these areas are defined is problematic. Lynch (1961) suggests that the sense of urban areas are mainly determined by thematic continuities consisting of spatial characteristics, such as the width of street, building type, colour, texture, façade detail and so on, and also gives a hypothesis that the image of urban area could be gradually developed and conceived through the network of sequences, a sense of interconnectedness at any level or in any direction. Rossi (1984) also argues that urban areas, identified as the study areas in his book, can be defined or described by their location in the city, their imprint on the ground, their topographic limits and their physical appearance which he sees as representing a consistent mode of living, involving a whole historic process of urban growth and differentiation. Both suggest, in effect, that there might be objective correlates for concepts of name areas, but little research since has taken this idea further. Here we ask if studies of cities as spatial configurations, using the techniques of space syntax, might throw light on these questions. Are there perhaps correlates between named areas and configurational properties? The paper first reviews syntactic methods applied in the past in defining different areas. These are for the most part based on spatial properties of the area itself, rather than the properties of the context, which prima facie seems likely to be a factor in how areas are defined. A new technique is then proposed for exploring properties of the context. Each axial line is taken as the root of a graph, and the numbers of axial lines found with increasing radius from the root is calculated, and expressed as a rate of change. This rate of change value is then assigned to the original axial line and expressed through bands of colour. The results show strong areal effects, in that groups of neighbouring lines tend to have similar 2 colouring, and in many cases these suggest natural areas. However the areas defined vary with the rate of change at different radii, with larger areas being identified by large radii. This technique is applied to the central areas of Beijing and London, and the results compared to known named areas. It further visually compares the area structure sketched in the Lynch’s case study of Boston with the area structure generated from spatial configuration of Boston, as a possible first step towards a cognitive dimension. Finally, it is suggested that what is being identified through this technique is not an area boundary in the normal sense, but what we might call a fuzzy boundary arising from the relation between the configurations of space within and outside the area. It further argues that the spatial definition of urban area could be more influenced by the external structure of the area, which might be called as exogenetic effect

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