The Harvard Graduate School of Design's City Form Lab recently released a new guide entitled Urban Network Analysis, intended to help users model pedestrian and bicycle trips in cities via Rhinoceros 3D software. The guide is authored by City Form Lab's director Andres Sevtsuk, who serves as assistant professor of urban planning. The GSD's Antoine Picon, G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology and Director of Research, contributed a foreword.
The guide and its tools make powerful spatial network analysis procedures accessible to urban planners, designers, policy makers, and geographers, and includes both case-studies and a technical manual. The associated plug-in software is also freely available. The work on these free urban network analysis tools and related documentation represents a substantial body of work that has been developed over several years. Sevtsuk and his colleagues have developed a robust user community among urban designers, planners, landscape architects, and architects around the world for the plug-in, and aim to continue growing this community.
The Urban Network Analysis guide takes up three central case studies in its analysis: predicting walking rights to light-rail transit in Surabaya, Indonesia; planning retail centers in a Singapore neighborhood; and patterns among accessibility and location of retail and food establishments in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts. The guide then walks readers through a suite of graphic user interface considerations, including how to manipulate attributes, create and edit networks, and analysis tools like accessibility indices and how to find patronage or distribute weights.
As Picon observes in his foreword, the Urban Network Analysis user guide illustrates a recent shift in planners' approach to digital design tools, and offers the reader a technical taxonomy of analytic procedures while also engaging readers to reflect on what spatial network analytics actually mean. Implicit throughout the book, he continues, is the assumption that a city is fundamentally a series of networks, or connections between places, and urban design as a field is in need of practical methods that allow designers to connect and relate built environments to the ways in which people actually move in them or use them.
“The Urban Network Analysis toolbox thus offers a powerful invitation to go beyond traditional urban composition techniques, to distance oneself from the quest for geometric regularity, and to rather develop a deeper understanding of how different elements of the city influence one another, producing patterns of flow and encounter,” Picon writes. “It makes new urban design solutions possible that go beyond the typically modernist obsession with composition and regularity. Just like the rise of the smart city to which the work contributes, contemporary urban modeling should not be envisaged as a way to restrict design choices – it must be considered as means to inform designs and enhance design flexibility.”