In the near future, two mega-trends – rapid urbanisation of the world’s population and its ageing – are bound to collide. This two-year project funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Fellowship investigates how visuo-spatial behaviour of different age groups contributes to urban dynamics. Elderly citizens, many of whom no longer drive, face daily challenges that urban designers have to take into account. The adaptation requires among other things appropriate tools to support planning for walking, which is arguably the most sustainable transport mode environmentally, socially, and economically. Cities’ walkability depends not only on physical settings, but also on processes of human spatial cognition, in particular visual perception. However, current state-of-the-art methods in modelling and forecasting urban systems are based mainly on economic and transportation demands and ignore the factor of spatial cognition. This project will construct a novel urban-behavioural paradigm that is able to connect built environment to the way people use it by addressing three fundamental questions:
- What are the most important visuo-spatial properties influencing spatial cognition, wayfinding and navigation?
- How age variations in visual abilities and urban visibility could be analysed as measurable mathematical structures?
- What mechanisms allow cities to be generated through interactions of pedestrian movement and visual information?
These questions are answered using an interdisciplinary approach, which combines quantitative spatial modelling techniques with qualitative strategies for tracing human behaviour in Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR).
This academic work has a twofold mission: while aiming to offer necessary tools for understanding the relationships between built environment and human cognitive functions, it also shows how professionals can apply spatial cognition research to design better urban space. It will be possible to integrate the project’s results into urban planning and design as a practical contribution towards reshaping mobility and architecture of our cities in the future.